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THOMAS CHARLES BRIDGES
(WRITING AS T.C. BRIDGES)

LOST IN THE TRAIN

THE MISSING TITLE-DEEDS
OF MEDLAND SCHOOL

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RGL e-Book Cover


Ex Libris

Serialised in The Children's Newspaper,
The Amalgamated Press, London, 24 Sep 1921—11 Mar 1922

First book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-07-31
Produced by Keith Emmett and Roy Glashan

Click here for more books by this author



Illustration

Illustration

Dicky helped Miss Morland out of the train.


CHAPTER 1
Off the Line

AS the big express slowed into Greenshields Junction, Dicky Dent was already on his feet.

"You collar the bag, Cis," he ordered. "I'll take the suitcase. With luck we shall just do it."

The train had hardly stopped before he was out and running hard for the bay at the end of the long platform, where the branch-line train for Maplestone was on the point of starting.

Brother and sister reached it just as the guard blew his whistle; and Dicky, flinging a door open, bundled Cis in, and as he scrambled after her the train began to move.

"Good business!" he panted. "I'm jolly glad we caught it. You ran like a good 'un, Cis."

"But this is a first-class carriage!" exclaimed Cis, in dismay.

"That's not our fault," returned Dick stoutly. "It's the company's for not giving us proper time to change."

"I am afraid they won't take that excuse," came a voice from the opposite corner of the carriage.

It was a woman's voice, very deep and rich, but one that exactly suited its owner—a tall, handsome, well-dressed woman of about forty-five who wore gold-rimmed glasses.

Dicky shot to his feet.

"I'm sorry, Miss Morland! I never saw you."

Miss Morland smiled graciously.

"I am not usually overlooked so easily, Dick. But sit down. How are you and Cis? And what have you been doing these holidays?"

"We've had a topping time!" Dicky answered eagerly; and at once began to tell her all about it.

Cis looked on in silent amazement. She wondered how her brother could talk so easily to this stately lady, who was not only the wealthy owner of the Warley Hall estate but also her own headmistress.

There was no need for Miss Morland to keep a school, for she was quite well-off and her estate a large and well-paying one. She did it as a hobby, and though she was very quick-tempered and imperious she was also extremely generous, and the girls at Warley had a very good time.

Medland House, Dicky's school, was only about a mile from Warley, and was under the mastership of Dr. Robert Fair, Miss Morland's brother-in-law.

Most of the girls at Warley had brothers at Medland, and it was part of Miss Morland's scheme of education that they should see a good deal of one another. Every Sunday a number of Medland boys were asked to tea at Warley, and these meetings were much looked forward to on both sides.

It was particularly nice for Dicky and Cicely Dent, for there was only a year between them, and the two were very devoted to one another.

"And how about work, Dick?" asked Miss Morland, presently. "Where did you come out in your form last term?"

"Third," Dicky told her, with some pride.

"Not so bad. Who was above you?"

"Burland and Last, ma'am. Burland was top."

"H'm! That's because he works. Joe Last ought to beat him hollow. He has heaps of brains, that boy, but I fear he's not steady."

Dicky did not answer. He knew Miss Morland was right, but of course he could not say so. Indeed, he knew more than Miss Morland, for he was aware that

Last had been slacking abominably all last term. If he had worked he might have been top, not only of the form, but of the school.

The train was nearing Maplestone, which lay in the valley of the Merle, and it began to quicken pace as it ran down the last gradient toward the station.

Miss Morland looked out of the window. "We are going very fast," she said uncomfortably. "And how the train rocks!"

The words were hardly out of her mouth when there was a jerk which flung Dicky right across the carriage, almost on top of Cis. It was followed by a grinding crash. Then the whole carriage seemed to lift beneath them. It swayed sideways, and for a horrible moment felt as if it were going right over. Then it settled back, bumped violently for a moment or two, and came to a standstill.

"Are you hurt, Cis?" gasped Dicky, as he struggled to his feet.

"No; not a bit. I'm all right. But, I say, what's happened?"

"The train is off the line," said Miss Morland; and in spite of the shock her voice was perfectly steady. "I am afraid the first carriages are upset."

Even as she spoke there was a shrill scream from somewhere in front. Miss Morland looked out of the window.

"Yes, they are over," she said quickly, "and there are people hurt. I must go and help."

She turned. "Take care of this for me," she said, handing Cis a small Morocco hand-bag. "Be very careful with it," she added emphatically.

Dicky already had the door open, and, jumping down on to the permanent way, helped Miss Morland out.

She hurried forward; and Dicky, forgetting all about the bag, followed.

The sight was an ugly one. The engine had gone off the rails and was lying on its side, with a cloud of white steam rising from it. The first carriage was mounted up on top of it, and the second also had toppled over.

Already the guard and some of the passengers were at work trying to get the imprisoned passengers out.

Others were scrambling out of the train in every direction, and Dicky saw several boys he knew among the crowd.

As Miss Morland and he reached the first carriage the guard and another man lifted a woman out. She looked quite limp, and Dicky felt a nasty sick shock, for he thought at first she was dead.

So did Miss Morland, but the guard reassured her.

"Her head's cut, ma'am," he said, "and she's stunned; but I don't think there's much wrong. I wish that other one would stop screaming. She ain't hurt, only scared."

"Get her out; I'll look after this one," said Miss Morland.

"Someone get some water," she ordered; and it was Dick who dashed off to obey.

There was a little stream at the bottom of the embankment, and Dicky found an old tin and brought some. The injured woman's eyes were open again, and Miss Morland's capable fingers soon dressed the cut.

Then someone called for help to lift some broken planking which was pinning down a passenger. Dicky ran across, and they got the man out. His leg was broken, but, as it turned out, he was the only person badly hurt.

As Dicky walked back down the train he almost ran into a man who came out from between two carriages—a powerfully-built fellow with a flat nose and deep-set eyes.

He gave Dicky a sharp glance and passed on without speaking. It occurred to Dicky that he knew the man's face, but before he could give the matter a second thought he saw Cis running toward him, and the moment he saw her face he knew that something was wrong.

"Oh, Dicky!" she cried in breathless dismay. "The bag is gone. Someone has taken it."


CHAPTER 2
The New Rule

"THE bag gone!" repeated Dicky. "You don't mean Miss Morland's?"

"But I do," answered Cis, whose pretty face was working piteously. "Oh, Dick, what shall I do?"

"Steady on, old thing," said Dick, slipping his arm through hers in comforting fashion. "Not a bit of use crying. Just tell me."

"I—I," began Cis, bravely choking back a sob—"I saw Tom Burland come by, and I jumped out to speak to him and ask him if anyone was killed—and—and when I got back the bag was gone."

"You're sure?"

"Quite certain. Dicky, someone must have come in by the other door and taken it. I know because I was close by the near door all the time."

"Yes; I expect that was it," replied Dicky. "Well, we must find Miss Morland and tell her."

"But she'll be so dreadfully angry," sobbed Cis, and now the tears were streaming down her cheeks.

Dicky took a quick resolve.

"Cis, you leave this to me. You're not to say a word about it to Miss Morland or anybody else."

"What do you mean, Dicky?"

"Just what I say. You promise?"

"I'll do anything you tell me," replied Cis, who had the most perfect trust in her capable brother.

"All right. Then come on."

"Here she is," said Cis in a low voice; and Dick saw the upright, stately figure of Miss Morland advancing toward them.

"I am so thankful that no one is killed," was her greeting. "Indeed, only one man is at all badly hurt. The rest have just cuts and bruises. And now I think we had better go on to the station. Where is my bag, Cicely?"

Dicky spoke up. "That's what I was just coming to tell you about, Miss Morland. I left it in the carriage, while Cis and I got out, and someone has stolen it."

Miss Morland stopped short. An expression of absolute dismay crossed her handsome face.

"My bag stolen!" she exclaimed. "Good gracious, Dick, how could you be so careless?"

"It was my fault—" began Cis, but Dick silenced her with a sharp look.

"Keep quiet," he whispered. "You promised."

Miss Morland was so overcome that she did not notice the little aside.

"But this is most serious," she said sharply. "There were documents of the greatest value in the bag. They were title deeds of—" She broke off. "How did it happen, Dick?"

"Tom Burland came by and we—we both got out," Dicky answered. "When we got back into the carriage again the bag was gone. Someone must have slipped in at the opposite door and taken it."

Miss Morland's face grew stern.

"It was abominable carelessness on your part, Dick. I left you and Cicely in charge of my property, and you have betrayed my trust. The bag must be found, or the consequences will be most serious."

Cis opened her mouth to speak, but Dick nudged her.

"I'll do my best, Miss Morland," he answered. "And I'm tremendously sorry about it."

"Sorrow won't find my bag," said Miss Morland severely. "And, mind you, it has got to be found! Now I am going to see the stationmaster and get him to telephone to the police."

The moment she was out of earshot Cis turned to her brother.

"Oh, Dicky, how could you?" she exclaimed.

"How could I what?"

"You told a story. It wasn't your fault at all."

"Don't talk nonsense, Cis. It was more my fault than yours. She left it to both of us, and I ought to have stayed with you. Now, don't worry. If there's going to be a row I can stick it a jolly sight easier than you. Remember I'm not under Miss Morland, and you are."

Cis shook her head. She was terribly distressed, yet now that Dick had taken the stand he had she did not know how to alter things. Besides, she had promised to do what he said.

Dick was quite cool. He stood frowning a little, evidently thinking hard. Suddenly his face cleared.

"I remember him," he exclaimed. "Yes, of course I know who he is quite well."

"Who—what?" demanded Cis.

"The man I saw as I came back to you. It was Janion."

"Janion! That horrid man who was butler at Warley, the one Miss Morland sent away for stealing?"

"That's it," replied Dick. "I almost ran into him, and he was coming through from the other side of the train. It's he who stole the bag. I'm almost certain. Come on. I'll tell the police."

There was no need for Miss Morland to telephone for Sergeant Croome of the local police was already at the station. As Dicky came up Miss Morland was speaking to him. Dicky wasted no time in voicing his suspicions.

"Janion!" exclaimed Miss Morland. "If he has got my bag I shall never see it again."

"I wouldn't be sure of that, ma'am," said the sergeant, who was a smart, well-set-up man. "If he's got it. I'll have it out of him, or know the reason why!"

So saying he hurried off.

Just then Dr. Fair came into the waiting-room. He was a tall, lean man with iron-grey hair and very clear, grey eyes. His kindly face was lit by a pleasant smile.

"How are you, Ruth?" he began cordially.

There was no smile on Miss Morland's face as she turned to him.

"A most disgraceful thing has happened, Robert," she said sharply. "My bag has been stolen, and I owe its loss entirely to the abominable carelessness of this boy here," pointing to Dicky.

Dr. Fair's smile faded.

"Tell me," he said gravely.

Miss Morland, who was now thoroughly out of temper, recounted the events of the past hour, and made the case so black against Dicky that the boy's very real sorrow turned to a feeling of anger.

"Beastly unfair," was his inward comment.

Dr. Fair seemed to take the same view.

"Come now, Ruth," he said, "are you not a little hard on Dent? I admit he was careless, but I suppose he did not think of anyone coming in through the opposite door."

"He ought to have thought," retorted Miss Morland. "I left the bag with him and Cicely, and they have betrayed their trust." She stood facing her brother-in-law, a high colour in her cheeks and her eyes bright with anger. "And let me tell you, Robert," she continued, "that the theft affects you at least as much as it does me. In that bag were the title-deeds of the playing-fields at Medland, which I meant to present to you as a birthday gift."

Dr. Fair started, then recovered himself.

"But how extremely kind and generous of you, Ruth!" he said.

"You have not got them yet," retorted his sister-in-law. "And for that you have to thank Dick Dent. What is more, unless my bag is recovered you will not have them."

Dicky stared, He could hardly believe his ears. In all his life he had never heard anything so unjust.

Clearly the doctor felt the same way.

"Ruth," he said gently, "you are not doing yourself justice. That is not fair or right."

"So that is your opinion," returned Miss Morland, who was now thoroughly wound up. "Then let me tell you something else. If you do not see your way to punish so gross an offence it remains for me to do so. I shall stop the Sunday tea-parties. Until my property is recovered no boy from Medland shall visit Warley."

This threat was too much not only for Dicky but for Dr. Fair.

"I have every sympathy with you, Ruth," he said gravely, "but I must tell you that any such action on your part is not just or worthy of you."

Taking Dicky by the arm he turned and left the room, leaving Miss Morland too angry to speak.


CHAPTER 3
Janion Clears Himself

DR. FAIR looked so hurt and troubled that Dicky felt sorry for him. The pleasantest relations existed between the master of Medland and his boys, and Dicky was particularly fond of him.

He looked up at him.

"I don't think she meant it, sir," he ventured to suggest. "And— and I'm sorry I was so careless."

"It was careless, Dick," agreed the Doctor gravely, yet very kindly. Dicky felt almost desperate.

"I say, sir, if you were to punish me, perhaps that would satisfy Miss Morland. I—I wouldn't mind a licking a bit, sir."

In spite of himself the Doctor smiled.

"My dear boy, I don't punish on those lines," he answered. "It is not as if you had done anything wrong."

"But it was wrong, sir," urged Dicky. "Do cane me, sir."

This was too much for the Doctor, who burst out laughing.

"It's the first time in all my experience that I ever had a boy beg for a caning," he chuckled.

Just then Miss Morland came out of the waiting-room past them, and the look she gave them cut the smile from the Doctor's face.

"We have done it now, Dick," he said ruefully. Then, seeing Dick's look of distress, he added, "But never mind. When Miss Morland has time to think it over, I feel sure that she will relent. And—"

Whatever he was going to say remained unsaid, for just then Sergeant Croome came quickly up.

"I've got Janion, sir. I want this young gentleman for a minute, if you please."

Dicky and the Doctor followed Croome into the station-master's office, where Janion was standing, in charge of a constable.

Janion's heavy face was not pretty at the best of times. Just now there was something positively repulsive in the malignant expression which he bent upon the sergeant, and more especially on Dicky.

"The man denies any knowledge of the bag, sir," said Croome to the Doctor. "And it is true that we have not found any of its contents about him. I want Mr. Dent to say what he saw."

Dicky answered in a quiet, straightforward manner, telling how he had seen Janion come through between the carriages of the wrecked train. He added that it was at the end of the same carriage in a compartment of which he and his sister and Miss Morland had been travelling.

There was a slight but ugly grin on Janion's face as he listened. Croome turned to him.

"Do you deny this, Janion?" he asked.

"No, I don't. The young gent saw me just as he says," replied the man coolly.

"Then can you explain your presence there?"

"I could have done that before if you'd asked me," returned Janion. "I was in the train myself, coming from Greenshields, where I've been to look for work. And I was travelling in a third-class compartment of that same carriage. When the accident happened I was chucked across the carriage, but I wasn't hurt, so out I climbed to see what I could do for the other poor chaps. First thing I saw was smoke coming from the luggage van, so off I went to see if I could help. There was a drum of acid upset, and the wood was beginning to burn. And as I don't reckon you'll believe what I say you'd better call Bill Noakes; he'll tell you the rest."

The man's confidence was staggering, but the sergeant made no comment, and merely sent the constable for Noakes.

In a minute or so the porter was brought in. He was a rather stupid-looking youth of perhaps twenty, who seemed rather scared.

"Noakes," said the sergeant, "we want you to tell us what happened in the luggage van after the accident."

"There was a drum of acid upset. Sergeant. It were burning up all the woodwork, so, seeing the smoke, I hollered for help. Then this chap here"—pointing to Janion—"he come jumping in, and between us we smothered it but with sand and earth."

"And how long did that take?" inquired Croome.

"Couldn't say exactly. Sergeant, but it took us some while."

"And when it was out?"

"Why, I stayed to keep an eye on the things like, and this chap went off down towards the station."

Janion looked at Croome.

"That satisfy you, Sergeant?" he asked, with a sneer that he hardly troubled to conceal.

"For the present, yes," snapped Croome, who was obviously annoyed. "You can go."

"Thank you, Sergeant," replied Janion sarcastically. "Good-bye, gentlemen." And, still grinning, he left.

"I am not really, satisfied," said the sergeant, frowning. "The man is a thoroughly bad character, and I am strongly inclined to think that if he did not commit the theft he employed someone else to do it."

The Doctor shook his head.

"Suspicion, unfortunately, counts for little, Sergeant. This is a most serious matter, for there is more in it than a mere theft. That bag contained papers of very great importance."

"So Miss Morland has told me, sir. You may count on me to do my best."

"I am sure I may, Sergeant," replied the Doctor, in his kindly, cordial way. "And now, Dick, you must get back to the school. The waggonette is waiting. And one word more. Do not talk about this matter to any of the boys."

"I'll be careful, sir," promised Dicky, and, touching his cap, went off.

Rather to his dismay Cis was already gone, swept off by Miss Morland. But she had left word with Tom Burland to say good-bye, and Tom faithfully delivered the message. Tom and Dicky climbed into the waggonette, in which six boys were already sitting, and they drove off to Medland.


CHAPTER 4
Bully Calvert

TEA was over. All the boys had arrived, and so had the luggage; and Dicky, leaving the dining-hall early, went across to the box-room to unpack his play-box and get out some books.

The box-room was a long, shed-like building running all along behind the dining-hall, and as it was now seven o'clock on an autumn evening, and the gas not lighted, the place was nearly dark.

There was just light enough, however, for Dicky to find his box, and he was rummaging in it when he became aware of voices between him and the door.

"Are you going to pay up, Last?" were the first words he heard, uttered in an angry tone.

Dicky knew the voice at once. It was that of Lawrence Calvert, the bully of the school.

A most unpleasant person was Calvert, and one carefully avoided by the younger boys; for, though he was short, he was tremendously strong, and, into the bargain, was one of those people who seem to enjoy inflicting pain on others.

His reputation among the elder boys was equally bad, for though he always seemed to have plenty of pocket-money he was very close with it. He never stood treat at the tuck-shop, but would lend money on which it was said he exacted interest.

"You're in something of a hurry, Calvert," came the reply, in the cool, indifferent tones of Joe Last.

"I am," replied Calvert harshly. "You see, I happen to know something about your affairs, and that you're worse broke than any chap in the school."

"Pah! Any kid in the Third Form knows that," retorted Last lightly. "All right, I'll pay you tomorrow."

"If you've got the cash you can pay me now," returned Calvert unpleasantly.

Dicky, meantime, was feeling horribly uncomfortable. He was hearing what he was not meant to hear, yet there was no way out of the box-room except by passing Calvert and Last.

"I told you I'd pay you tomorrow," answered Joe Last, and now there was a touch of irritation in his voice. "That's good enough for you. Now clear out!"

Before Calvert could reply there was a heavy tread on the far end of the room; and Bell, the boot-boy, entered, lighted the gas, and then tramped out again.

The light, feeble as it was, revealed Dicky; and Calvert, perhaps not sorry to find someone to vent his spite on, turned upon him.

"You young sneak, Dent! What are you doing here?" he demanded.

Dicky faced him. "I was getting something out of my play-box. I didn't know you and Last were here till you began to talk."

"That's a lie!" returned Calvert. "You were just sneaking round seeing what you could pick up!"

"If it comes to that," replied Dicky hotly, "it's your fault for talking secrets in a place like this! I've got just as much right in the box-room as you!"

"Oh, have you?" snarled Calvert, advancing on the smaller boy. "Well, I'm going to teach you that you haven't!"

With that he seized Dicky by the arm and began to twist it.

Dicky did not take it lying down. He kicked out hard, caught the bully on the shin, and brought him down with a crash on the bare boards.

But in falling he brought Dicky down, too, and fell on top of him.

"Impudent puppy!" he snapped; and, shifting his grip, got Dicky by the throat and banged his head against the boards.

Next moment a pair of lean but capable hands caught Calvert by the collar of his coat and jerked him back with such force as not only dragged him off Dicky, but left him sprawling on his back on the floor.

"No, you don't, Calvert!" said Joe Last, in a ringing voice.

Dicky, tying half-dazed on the boards, saw Joe standing over Calvert. Joe Last was tall, lean, and extraordinarily handsome in a wild, reckless fashion. He was very fair, with hair that shone pale gold in the gas light, and clear blue eyes that just now blazed with anger.

"I'll be even with you for this!" snarled Calvert from the floor.

"Try it!" returned Joe. "Get up, coward, and I'll show you who's best man!"

Calvert did not move.

"No, Last; I'm not going to fight you!" he answered, with an ugly grin. "I know a trick worth two of that!"

Joe Last took a handkerchief from his pocket and deliberately flicked Calvert across the face.

"Now will you fight?" he asked.

Calvert's small eyes contracted.

"You'll be sorry you did that, Last!" he said, in a grating voice.

"Sorry be hanged!" retorted Joe lightly. "Go on out, Dent. As this thing likes to grovel on the floor we'll leave him to do it."

So saying he followed Dicky out of the shed.

Outside, Dicky turned to him.

"I—I say, Last," he stammered, "I—I couldn't help hearing what Calvert said to you. May I—that is, would you mind borrowing ten bob from me?"

The hard, reckless look passed from Last's handsome face.

"You're a real good little chap, Dicky," he said. "It's uncommon decent of you. But, no; I don't want it. I'll pay the fellow tomorrow, as I promised. And much good may it do him!" he added, with a sudden fierceness which made Dicky positively jump.

For a moment Last stood with his eyes staring, his lips drawn back showing his teeth, and his hands tightly clenched. Then a bell began to clang, and all of a sudden the boy was himself again.

"Prep. bell, Dicky," he said, with a laugh. "Got to go in and be good little boys." Then, in a flash, he was grave once more. "Dicky, you keep clear of Calvert. Take warning by me. Have nothing to do with fellows like that. If you do they'll ruin you."


CHAPTER 5
A Letter from Cis

"WHAT'S up, Dicky?"

Breakfast was just over on the second morning of term, and Dicky Dent was sitting by himself on a seat under the big plane trees which lined one side of the quadrangle, reading a letter, when the abrupt question made him look up quickly. The speaker was a short, compactly-built boy, with a square, determined chin, and the very reddest hair.

A look of relief crossed Dicky's troubled face.

"Oh, it's you, Tom! The very chap I wanted to see. I say, look at this! It's from Cis," he added, as he handed over the letter.

Tom Burland took it, and as he read slowly through the blotted, tear-stained sheet his face became almost as grave as Dicky's.

He finished and handed it back.

"This is the very mischief, Dicky. I never thought the old lady would play up like this."

Dicky shook his head.

"You don't know her, Tom. Miss Morland has a queer temper, and now she has got her back up thoroughly."

"But this is beastly unfair," retorted Tom. "To put her place out of bounds to all of us isn't the straight thing at all. If she sticks to it you won't be able to see Cis all the term, and I can't see Fay, and there are quite a dozen other chaps who'll be cut off from their sisters and never be able to get a word with them."

"And it's all our fault—Cis's and mine," said Dicky gloomily.

Tom Burland cut him short.

"Nonsense!" he said sharply. "If it comes to that it's as much mine as anybody's, for it was I who called to Cicely to come out of the carriage, and it was while she was out that the bag was stolen." He stopped and considered a moment. "Can't the Doctor do anything?" he questioned.

"He tried last night," replied Dicky. "It only seems to have made things worse."

"Then what are we going to do about it?" demanded Tom. "I'm not going to be cut off from my sister all the term. Fay and I are no end pals."

"There's only one thing to do, Tom," answered Dicky. "That is to find out who stole the bag."

"From what you've told me already it must have been that fellow Janion," said Tom.

Dicky shrugged his shoulders.

"That's what I think. But you know that Sergeant Croome searched him and found nothing."

"Bah! What's the good of that? A beggar like Janion is much too clever to be caught that way. Either he hid the bag or passed it on to someone else."

Tom Burland frowned, and for some moments was silent, evidently thinking hard.

"There were papers in the bag, weren't there, Dicky?" he asked.

"Yes. The Doctor told me not to talk, but I don't think he'd mind my telling you. There were deeds in the bag—title-deeds to our playing-fields. Miss Morland told the Doctor that she had been meaning to give them to him as a birthday present."

"My word, this is a mix-up!" exclaimed Tom. "But wait a minute, Dicky. Deeds like those wouldn't be much use to Janion."

"Not a bit," replied Dicky quickly. "He couldn't sell them."

"Then what will he do?"

"I expect he'll chuck them away or burn them. You see, he wouldn't dare risk being caught with them on him."

"I see that all right," agreed Tom; "but then what was the good of stealing them?"

"None at all, so far as he was concerned. It was the money he was after."

"Oh, there was money in the bag as well?"

"About twelve pounds, I believe."

Tom nodded. "Yes, the beggar would use that, and burn the bag and the papers. It looks to me as if that were the only thing he could do."

"That's just what I've been thinking, and if he has, why, we are done in, for there's no chance of Miss Morland coming round unless I can give her back her bag and papers,"

"But she could get new deeds, I'm almost sure," said Tom. A very stubborn expression crossed his face. "Anyhow, I'm not going to be cut off from Fay just because Miss Morland loses her temper."

"Nor I from Cis," agreed Dicky. "You see what she says in her letter—that we can talk over the wait of their playing-field."

Tom nodded. "Yes, just where the plantation comes up close. It's not a bad notion, only she'll have to be jolly careful that she isn't spotted."

"I don't think there's much risk of that," said Dicky. "They leave the girls to themselves for an hour or so after tea. I'm going round tomorrow."

"Right! You tell me how it turns out," replied Tom. "Now I've got to go and mug up my English for next lesson."

He went off, and Dicky was not long in following.

When Dicky got into his form-room half-a-dozen boys crowded round him. Somehow the story had got about, and everyone knew that there had been a quarrel between the Doctor and Miss Morland.

Dicky, remembering his promise to the Doctor, said as little as possible. But he felt guilty and unhappy, for it seemed to him that it was he who was responsible for all the trouble. And what added to his discomfort was that Lawrence Calvert, sitting in a corner, asked no questions, but glanced sideways at him with an ugly sneer.

It was a relief when Mr. Hope, the form master, came into the room, and work began.


CHAPTER 6
50 Reward

WHEN morning school was over Dr. Fair's boys had a free hour before dinner, and it was only during this hour that they were allowed to go into the village for shopping.

Now, Dicky needed several things—some stamps, a couple of fives balls, and a pot of jam—and, having in his pocket a pound which his father had given him as a tip before leaving home, he went straight into Maplestone.

He got his stamps and fives balls, then went on to Jupp's to get the jam. Jupp was grocer, baker, and confectioner, all in one, and Jupp did very well out of it.

Jupp himself was fat, bald, and had a shiny face and hard little round eyes, and Dicky did not like him. But as Jupp's was the only shop of its kind in Maplestone there was no choice, so, after leaving the post-office, Dicky went on towards it for his jam.

Just before he reached it a boy wearing a Medland House cap stepped out of a side turning. This was Philip Aylmer, Joe Last's half-brother. In his way Philip was almost as good-looking as Joe, but his face had none of the reckless strength of Joe's, Philip's was a pink-and-white prettiness, and though his eyes were as blue as Joe's his mouth was slack and his chin too small and pointed.

He stood waiting, and as Dicky came up spoke quickly:

"I say, Dent, lend me a shilling."

Dicky hesitated. He didn't care much for Philip, and, for another thing, he knew perfectly well that it was not lending but giving. Philip was one of the sort who are a great deal better at borrowing than repaying.

"Do, Dent," went on Philip. "I'm simply stony."

Before Dicky could answer a tall figure swung out of Sugg's shop just beyond, and was upon them. It was Joe Last.

"Are you trying to borrow money again, Philip?" he demanded, and his handsome face was white with passion, while his blue eyes fairly blazed.

Philip shrank away.

"It's no use your denying it," went on Joe, and there was such concentrated anger in his tone as was terrifying. "I heard you."

Philip said nothing, merely looked sulky and frightened.

Joe swung round on Dicky.

"Don't you ever dare lend him a penny!" he snapped.

Dicky was long suffering, but he had plenty of spirit of his own, and much as he adored Joe this was a bit too much.

"I don't think you need talk like that, Last," he said in a hurt tone, and turned quickly away.

Next moment Joe's hand was on his shoulder.

"I'm a pig, Dick," he said penitently. "I know I've no right to slang you. I'm worried—that's what's the matter."

"It's all right, Last," replied Dicky, smiling again. "And—and—if there's anything I can do to help, do tell me."

"Thanks, Dick. You're a good chap." His face twisted oddly. "But no one can help me," he added, in a lower tone. Then, before Dicky could think of anything to say, Joe had caught Philip roughly by the arm and was striding away.

Dicky walked slowly and thoughtfully back towards the school. He was much troubled in his mind, for now he was more certain than ever that something was seriously wrong.

On his way he passed the police-station. A big new poster attracted his attention, and he stopped to read it. It was headed:


50 REWARD

Lost during the accident outside Maplestone Station, on Sept. 17 last, a lady's handbag containing twelve pounds in Treasury notes and valuable documents. Whoever will return the same to Miss Morland of Warley Hall, Maplestone, or will give information leading to its return, will receive the above reward.


Dicky whistled softly.

"I hadn't thought of this. Perhaps it's what Janion was waiting for."

It was in a very depressed frame of mind that Dicky returned to the school. At dinner he found that everyone had either seen or heard about the new poster, and that all the boys were talking about it, and wondering if Miss Morland would get her bag again. Dicky himself was so pestered with questions that after dinner he buttonholed Tom Burland, and the two went off for a long walk.

Next morning there was still no news of the missing bag, and Dicky noticed that the Doctor, when he read prayers as usual, had a depressed air. So, for that matter, had most of the boys. A curious sort of gloom seemed to hang over the whole school.

"A nice way to begin term," growled Tom in Dicky's ear, as they strolled together to breakfast.

"I'll see Cis this afternoon," said Dicky. "Perhaps she'll have news."

"Well, you be careful not to get spotted," warned Tom. "If Miss Morland gets on to it there'll be a fresh row."

"I'll be careful," promised Dicky.

After tea he slipped off and made his way through the playing-fields in the direction of Warley Hall. At the farther edge of the playing-fields was a plantation known as Helen's Wood. It was all fir and larch trees about thirty feet-high, and so thickly planted that a dusky gloom reigned always beneath them. The ground was thickly carpeted with pine needles, on which Dicky's feet made no sound.

The plantation ran right up to the brick wail bounding the grounds of Warley Hall, and presently Dick was standing under a tree close to the wall, and waiting. The afternoon, though fine, was dull, and there was no wind. The stillness in the wood was intense—almost uncanny. Dick could hear his own heart beating as he stood there.

A slight rustle made him start.

"Dicky!" came a low voice, and there was Cis's head just appearing above the wall.

"Good for you, old girl!" he said, as he stepped out. "I'm jolly glad you could come. Any news?"

Cis's pretty face had a very serious expression.

"There's very bad news, Dicky. Miss Morland is angrier than ever. She has had a letter from someone who doesn't sign his name saying he will return her bag for 500."


CHAPTER 7
Dicky Interviews the Sergeant

THE amount staggered Dicky.

"Five hundred pounds!" he repeated. "But that's a lot of money."

"It made Miss Morland perfectly furious," said Cicely. "She vows that nothing will make her pay it."

"She's quite right," agreed Dicky gravely. "The person who wrote the letter is trying to force her to pay ten times as much as the reward she has offered. But, Cis, how do you know about it?"

"She had me up and told me about it. Oh, Dicky, it was dreadful. She was in such a rage."

Cicely was almost crying, and Dicky wished he could comfort her.

"It's all right, old thing," he said stoutly. "It wasn't your fault any more than mine, and, anyhow, it's no use worrying about what has happened already. What we have to do is to try to find out who did steal the bag, and who wrote the letter, I say, did you see the letter?"

"Yes; Miss Morland showed it to me. It was done on a typewriter, and there was no address and it wasn't signed."

Dicky frowned.

"Then supposing Miss Morland agreed to pay the money, where could she send it?"

"That's just it. In the letter it said that if she accepted she was to put an advertisement in the Daily Mail. It gave the words she was to use. Then he would write again and tell her how she was to pay the money and how she would get the bag."

"I say, he's a pretty cunning sort of chap," remarked Dicky. "But isn't Miss Morland going to put the answer in?"

"I don't suppose so," said Cicely. "She was just boiling over with indignation."

Dicky considered a while.

"But I think she ought to," he said, at last. "Don't you see, it's the only way to trap the fellow. If she arranged to meet this chap somewhere she might have the police hidden close by, and they could catch him."

Cicely's face brightened a little.

"That's a good idea," she agreed.

"Well, can't you tell Miss Morland, and get her to agree to it?"

"I might try," replied Cicely doubtfully, "but I'll have to wait till she's got over being in such a temper."

"All right. See her tomorrow, if you can. I'll be here tomorrow evening again, just at the same time, and if you can slip off you'll be able to tell me whether she'll do it."

"I'll try," promised Cicely. "And now I'd better get back. I mustn't run any risk of being seen. There'd be a worse row than ever if Miss Morland thought I'd been talking to you."

"It's a shame," growled Dicky. "I've a jolly good mind to write home about it."

Cicely smiled faintly. If there was one thing she knew that Dicky would not do it was to worry the people at home with complaints of what was happening at school.

Dicky saw the smile, and he grinned back.

"All right, I'll wait a bit first, before I raise a row," he said. "Good-bye, Cis. See you tomorrow."

"Good-bye, Dicky," answered Cicely, and, blowing her brother a kiss, disappeared behind the wall.

As Dicky turned slowly and thoughtfully back toward the school a slight rustle made him pull up short, and he stood absolutely still, peering round cautiously into the dusky shadow which surrounded him. But the sound was not repeated. "Must have been a squirrel," muttered Dicky under his breath, and presently pushed on.

The playing-fields were practically deserted, for it was now nearly lock-up time. But as Dicky crossed them the clouds broke, and the setting sun threw its golden rays across the great stretch of smooth turf, and lit the tall elms with a lovely yellow light.

"It does look ripping," he said to himself. "These fields simply make the place."

Then a horrid idea came to him. "Suppose Miss Morland cuts up rough and takes them away!" It would not bear thinking of, and Dicky put on steam, and dived in through the gates barely a moment before Mangles, the porter, closed them.

In the Third Form class-room he found Tom, and beckoned him out.

"Any good?" questioned Tom, as the two walked together round the court-yard.

Dicky told him of his interview with Cicely and about the anonymous letter that Miss Morland had received.

Tom nodded sagely. "It's Janion," he said. "I wonder where the beggar lives."

"We could easily find out," replied Dicky. "Sergeant Croome would know."

"Then I vote we find out," said Tom.

Dicky pursed his lips. "You mean we might watch him?"

"That's the notion. I don't know whether we could do any good, but it seems to me we've got to do something."

"I'm game," said Dicky. "I'll see the sergeant in the morning. And it's a half tomorrow afternoon. We might go and have a squint round."

"We jolly well will," said Tom, with decision.

Prep. bell rang, and they had to go, but next morning Dicky went into the village, and found Sergeant Croome at the police station.

Croome, a very good fellow, was inclined to be amused at Dicky's demand for Janion's address.

"Why, Master Dent," he said, "do you think the police are neglecting their duty?"

"Of course I don't," replied Dicky stoutly. "But it can't do any harm to tell me where Janion lives."

"I'm not so sure about that," replied the other rather gravely. "The man is a thorough bad character, and entirely unscrupulous. No one can say what he might do if he saw boys watching him."

Dicky laughed scornfully.

"Why, Sergeant, you surely don't think we should be silly enough to let him see us?"

This time Croome smiled.

"Well, perhaps not," he said indulgently. "See here, Master Dent, you'll give me your word to be careful, and also not to talk to him?"

Dicky promised.

"Very well, then. He is living now in that old cottage called The Hollow. Do you know it?"

"Rather! It's close to the marl pits."

"That's it. Now, you will be careful?"

"I've promised," replied Dicky.

"Very good. And if you do see anything suspicious, I shall be glad if you will inform me."

"I will," said Dicky, and went away feeling quite two sizes larger. It was a feather in his cap, to be recognised as an ally by the police.


CHAPTER 8
In the Marl Pits

"FUNNY old place, this," said Tom in Dicky's ear.

The two were squatting, side by side, in a thick patch of brambles and hazel bushes on the edge of the old marl pits, and their surroundings certainly justified Tom's remark. To their right lay a wide stretch of ground covering at least two acres, which looked as if some playful giant had been turning it over in a treasure hunt, and then left it in disgust.

These were the marl pits, where, in the past, thousands of tons of rich clay had been dug for spreading on the fields. They had been worked out and abandoned, leaving a honeycomb of pits and hollows now overgrown with brushwood, brambles, and weeds of all sorts.

Behind, the ground sloped up steeply to the foot of tall limestone cliffs. The boys had their backs to these cliffs, and looked down upon the valley, with the Merle curving like a silver ribbon down its centre.

To their left was a deep hollow, a sort of pocket in the hillside, a rather gloomy-looking place fringed with wind-twisted beech trees. In it stood a ruinous cottage, with a roof of sodden thatch and broken windows roughly boarded up.

"That's where Janion lives, Tom," said Dicky.

Tom stared at the miserable shanty.

"I'm blessed if I'd care to live there," he observed.

"I wonder if he's there now," said Dicky.

"Shouldn't be surprised. There's smoke coming out of the chimney. We'd better sit tight and see."

They sat—and sat. An hour passed, and they got very bored.

"I don't believe he's there, after all," grumbled Tom. "Let's go and have a prowl round these funny old marl pits."

Dicky nodded.

"If we don't go too far away we can see Janion if he comes out. He might go to the place where he's hidden the bag," he suggested hopefully.

"Not a bit likely," retorted Tom. "But come on."

They slipped out of their bramble patch and turned toward the marl pits. The whole place was fairly honeycombed with holes, deep cuttings, and old tunnels, the latter mostly caved in, and, as everything was covered with wild growth, the going was anything but safe.

Dicky fell into a hole, and scrambled out badly scratched. But Tom cut short his lamentations with a sharp "Sh! There's someone coming up the hill. See?"

Both hid behind a sloe-bush and watched.

A squat, heavily-built individual was coming up from the valley in their direction. They noticed that he took cover all the way behind a hedge, and that every now and then he turned and glanced behind him.

Dicky grabbed Tom's arm.

"It's Calvert," he whispered.

With bated breath the pair watched Calvert approach. He came right up into the pits, and vanished from their sight.

"What on earth is he after?" growled Tom; and just then they heard a faint, peculiar whistle.

"Let's get nearer," said Dicky.

Tom nodded, and, dropping on all fours, they crawled slowly forward.

It was difficult and dangerous—dangerous because they both knew Calvert's sullen, ugly temper. If he caught them watching him, there was no doubt in the minds of either as to what the consequences would be.

At last they gained a spot from which they could see him. Calvert was standing in a small hollow, completely surrounded by thick gorse. Behind him was a little knoll, also gorse-clad, and it was here that Dicky and Tom found a hiding-place.

Calvert was evidently waiting. He had not long to wait. There was a rustle among the brush below, and suddenly Janion's head appeared above it. Next moment the man had stepped out into the open.

There was a scowl on his ill-shaven face which did not add to its beauty. His clothes were old and shabby, and instead of a collar he wore a ragged muffler round his neck. He carried a thick stick, and his whole appearance was so evil that Dicky shivered slightly.

"So you've come at last. I hope you've been long enough," was the way in which he addressed Calvert.

Calvert scowled back.

"I came as soon as I could," he answered harshly. "There were two kids from the school ahead of me. I had to wait till they had gone."

"Two kids?" repeated Janion suspiciously. "Who were they?"

"Dent and Burland, I believe."

"What! Dick Dent? He's the one who got me pulled by Croome." Janion glared round. "I wish I could lay my hands on him," he added viciously. "I'd teach him—the little sneak!"

Unconsciously Dicky moved slightly, and a dry stick cracked sharply beneath him.

"What's that?" cried Janion sharply. "There's someone in the gorse there."

With his stick grasped in his heavy fist, he rushed forward.


CHAPTER 9
Nearly Caught

IT says something for Dicky's pluck that he did not lose his head.

Instead of jumping up and running, he merely nudged Tom, then crept right into the heart of the thickest of the gorse. Tom followed, and the pair flattened themselves out and lay motionless, hardly daring to breathe.

Janion came scrambling noisily up the sloping side of the hollow, and the boys heard his heavy boots crashing through the gorse and brambles.

"What's up?" came Calvert's voice from somewhere behind.

Janion paused a moment.

"Are you deaf?" he retorted. "Didn't you hear that stick crack?"

"I did hear something, but I expect it was only a rabbit."

"Rabbit!" repeated Janion, scornfully. "Rabbits don't break sticks. It's someone spying on us. Those boys, most like. Here, you come and help look. I'll lay they're hiding up somewhere in this thick stuff."

"All right," replied Calvert, sulkily, and Dicky heard him follow Janion.

Dicky did not feel happy. If these two started a thorough search there could be only one end to it.

At this moment Tom touched his arm and, looking round, he saw his chum pointing to a little opening, not much bigger than a rabbit-run, which led away to the right.

Dicky nodded and set to crawling again. The opening was so low that he had to go flat on his stomach, and even so could not help causing a slight rustling. Luckily, Janion and Calvert were making such a row plunging about in the gorse that there was not much risk of their hearing.

Dicky had wormed onwards for half-a-dozen yards when, suddenly, the trampling steps came straight toward him.

Closer they came, and closer, and Dicky's heart was in his mouth, for now escape seemed hopeless. He stopped and lay still as a hare in its form.

A great boot crashed down within a yard of his head, and he gave up hope. He had just time to wonder whether he had better jump up and bolt when he saw Janion's other foot almost in front of his nose. Next instant the man had passed, and Dicky realised that, by some sort of miracle, Janion had failed to see him.

The relief was so intense that for the moment it left him quite weak and breathless. But this did hot last long. Tom was poking him from behind, and he quickly started off again.

The tunnel in the gorse ended quite suddenly, and Dicky found himself looking over the edge of a six-foot drop into a wall-sided cutting.

Creeping quickly over the edge, he gained the bottom in safety, and Tom followed.

Tom pointed again, and they both slipped away as quickly and silently as possible up the cutting. This was so overhung with brushwood that there was little risk of being seen, and the relief of being able to run erect instead of crawl was simply wonderful.

Thirty yards up the dyke ended, and Dicky stopped short. Tom silently pointed to the right, where the bushes were thickest, and in another moment the two were up and away as fast as they could go.

After this it was easier, for they were out of earshot of their pursuers who were still angrily beating the original bit of cover.

A few minutes later the venturesome pair were ensconced in a small cave, the mouth of which was so covered with gorse that there was little risk of discovery.


CHAPTER 10
When Knaves Fall Out

"CLOSE call, Dicky," remarked Tom Burland, as he picked a nasty thorn out of the palm of his hand.

"Bit too close to suit me," agreed Dicky. "I'm jolly well going to stay here till those beggars clear out!"

Tom nodded.

"Safest thing to do," he agreed. "But I say, Dicky, what was Calvert doing with Janion?" Dicky's face assumed a very serious expression.

"I wish I knew, Tom. We should have known, too, if only I hadn't been duffer enough to step on that stick."

"You couldn't help that," answered Tom, gruffly. "But it was a regular arranged meeting between those two, Janion was expecting Calvert."

"I know. I only wish we could find out whether it had anything to do with Miss Morland's bag."

Tom scared.

"How could Calvert know anything about that?"

"That's more than I can tell," Dicky answered. "But, Tom, I believe there's a lot behind this that we haven't got the hang of yet."

Tom frowned. He was the sort that hates puzzles.

"I don't see what you mean, Dicky. Janion stole the bag; we're trying to get it back. That's all plane sailing, surely!"

"Then where does Calvert come in asked Dicky.

"He doesn't come in. Why should we think that he knows anything about the bag?"

Dicky shrugged his shoulders. Before he could speak again a sound of steps was heard outside.

The two boys, exchanged glances of dismay.

"They've tracked us," whispered Tom.

Dicky shook his head.

"No. Neither of them knows the first thing about tracking. It's just chance. Sit tight. We're all right."

The steps came nearer, and Calvert's grumbling voice made itself heard.

"It's all my eye," he was saying. "I don't believe it was anyone. Anyhow, I'm fed up with tramping round in this wretched gorse. My legs are full of thorns. Let's go into your cottage. We can talk there."

"Not if I know it!" replied Janion, sourly. "Not when Croome or one of his chaps is liable to come nosing around any minute. Like as not what we heard was one of his spies."

The steps ceased. Calvert apparently had pulled up.

"Then where are we to have our yarn?" he demanded harshly. "You don't think I've come all this way for nothing, do you?"

"I know well enough what you've come for," answered Janion. "Just to vent your spite on that chap Last."

The retort evidently made Calvert furious.

"Don't you dare to talk to me like that!" he snapped. "But there, it serves me right for putting myself out to help a thief like you!"

"Shut up, can't you?" hissed Janion in a tone of mingled fear and rage. "Suppose someone were to hear you?"

"Suppose your grandmother!" returned Calvert as angrily. "Here, it's no use my staying here any longer. I'm going back."

Dicky, quivering with eagerness, ventured to push the bushes aside just enough to peer out. He was in time to see Calvert stalking away, and Janion, his heavy face livid with rage, glaring after him.

A moment later and Janion, too, swung round and went off in the direction of the Hollow.

Dicky and Tom waited only until he was out of sight, then, slipping out of their cave, started back toward the school.

It was not till they were well out of sight of the marl pits that they ventured to slacken their pace. Then Dicky turned to Tom.

"I was right, you see," he said.

"How do you mean? No one said anything about the bag."

"No, but Calvert called Janion a thief."

"That's nothing," replied Tom. "It was for stealing that Miss Morland sacked Janion a year ago."

"Yes, but that's an old story," said Dicky. "He meant the bag, I feel sure."

"He may have," allowed Tom. "But what worries me is the plot these beggars are hatching against Joe Last."

Dicky nodded gravely.

"Yes, that's bad, Tom. Calvert's got a frightful grudge against Joe. Those two have always hated one another, but it's a lot worse since Joe had that row with Calvert the first night of term."

"I know. You told me. But I can't quite see what Janion has got to do with that business."

"I can't either," confessed Dicky, "yet from what Janion said it's plain enough that he has." He paused and considered a moment. "Well, anyhow," he added, "I'm going to see Cis this evening, and if Miss Morland will only agree perhaps we shall have a chance of bottling Janion."

"Good egg!" said Tom. "But mind you, Dicky, we can't do this job on our own."

"Of course not. We shall have to tell Croome, and let him fix up the trap."


CHAPTER 11
Dicky Gets a Shock

A BELL began to jangle in the distance. It was the tea-bell, and they had to run hard to be in time.

They got in hot and breathless, and as Dicky took his seat he saw Calvert scowling at him from the seniors' table.

"Calvert has spotted us," he whispered unhappily to Tom, who sat next him.

"So I see," replied Tom in his matter-of-fact way, "but it's no use worrying, Dicky. Whatever the fellow suspects he doesn't know anything."

"I only hope he doesn't try to collar me coming out of hall," said Dicky. "I've got to get straight over to Helen's Wood, or I shan't have time to tell Cis about things."

"We'll slip out ahead of him," said Tom, as he helped himself from their joint pot of raspberry jam.

The two finished tea quickly, and walked straight out of the hall.

"It's all right," said Tom. "Calvert's still tucking in. Now you go right ahead. Oh, and tell Cis to give my love to Fay."

"I will," promised Dicky; and set off.

He cast several anxious glances behind him, but there was no sign of Calvert or anybody else, yet all the same it was with a feeling of distinct relief that he slipped into the dim shelter of Helen's Wood. He took his place under the same tree beneath which he had stood on the previous evening, and waited quietly.

He seemed to have waited an age when suddenly he heard the rustle of some dry leaves in a thicket behind him.

Dick's thoughts at once flew to Calvert. Had Calvert thought it worth his while to follow him? He did not fear meeting the bully, but Dick did not wish his meeting-place with his sister to become known.

He was just about to hide when a large sheep-dog he knew quite well came running up to him.

"Hullo, old chap!" said Dick laughingly, as he made a fuss of the dog. "So it was only you. You gave me quite a shock!"

Some five minutes passed. Then at last came a slight rustle, and this time Cicely's head popped up on the other side of the wall.

"Hallo, old thing!" said Dicky, coming forward. "Any luck?"

"I did have a little talk with Miss Morland last night, Dicky," said Cicely. "And I asked her if it wouldn't be possible to catch that horrid Janion in the way you said."

"Did she tumble to it?" asked Dicky eagerly.

"I think she was rather taken with the idea."

"Yes; but did she say she'd do it?"

"No, she didn't actually say that. She's still in a very funny temper, Dicky. All she said was that it might be worth trying."

"Of course it's worth trying! It's the only way to catch the fellow." Dicky paused a moment, then went on quickly. "I say, Cis, I've found out one thing. It was Janion who stole the bag—at least, I'm nearly certain it was."

"Tell me," said Cicely, her bright little face alight with eagerness.

"All right, only I must be quick. Gates close in about ten minutes, and I should get into a frightful scrape if I were late."

Coming close up under the wall, he gave his sister a brief account of his expedition to the marl pits and of what he and Tom had overheard of the conversation between Janion and Calvert.

"I heard Calvert call him a thief," he said. "So I am pretty certain Calvert knows that Janion stole the bag."

"It certainly sounds like it," agreed Cicely, "Anyhow—"

In the very middle of her sentence she stopped short and vanished with startling suddenness.

"What's the matter?" cried Dicky; and, jumping up, he caught the coping of the wall with his hands and pulled himself up.

As he did so another head rose above the wall, and Dicky, horror-stricken, found himself gazing straight into the angry eyes of no less a personage than Miss Morland herself.


CHAPTER 12
Dicky Asks a Question

"SO this is how you behave!" said Miss Morland, in a terrible voice. "Not content with the mischief you have already done, you must break my rules and induce your sister to do so also. When I first got the letter informing me of what you were doing I did not believe it, and that is why I resolved to come myself to see if it were true. Dick Dent, I am ashamed of you."

Dicky had dropped back, and was standing close under the wall. For the moment he had been struck dumb with dismay, but now he was quickly pulling himself together. After all, as he told himself, if he had broken Miss Morland's silly rule he had not done anything really wrong, so why should he be ashamed of himself?

"Who told you, Miss Morland?" were the words that rose to his lips.

Miss Morland flushed slightly and for the moment looked almost confused, but she recovered herself at once.

"What business is that of yours?" she demanded. "What do you mean by asking me such a question?"

"Because I was wondering if the letter were signed," replied Dicky shrewdly.

There was no doubt now about Miss Morland's confusion. But she soon recovered herself.

"What does it matter if it were signed or not?" she said. "It was the truth in any case."

Dicky remained silent. He had learned what he wanted to know. The only thing he was doubtful about was whether he had Janion or Calvert to thank for this.

Miss Morland went on.

"Have you nothing to say for yourself?" she asked harshly.

"No, ma'am, except that I don't think it's fair to keep all the fellows away from their sisters."

Miss Morland grew more angry than ever.

"You dare to question my decisions?" She paused, with her eyes fixed on Dicky. "If you were under my charge I should deal with you most severely. As it is, I shall ask the Doctor to punish you. And your sister shall feel the weight of my displeasure."

This was too much for Dicky.

"No, ma'am!" he exclaimed. "Please don't punish Cis. If you only let her off I'll take all the punishment you like."

"You will be punished anyhow," said the lady grimly. "As for Cicely, I shall take very good care that she does not see you again this term."

So saying, she turned, and the wall cut off all sight of her.

Dicky stood stock still, listening to the retreating footsteps, and feeling about as angry and unhappy as ever he had in all his life.

"It was Calvert, I believe," he said fiercely to himself. "I'm just about sure it was Calvert. The horrid sneak!"

Then it suddenly occurred to him that if he did not hurry he would probably be late for lock-up, and, turning, he ran back through the wood and across the playing-fields.

He was still a hundred yards away when the big clock in the turret began to strike, and, though he spurted hard, he was just too late. The gates were closed.

Panting for breath, he rang the bell of the porter's lodge.


CHAPTER 13
The Doctor's Warning

"I SHALL have to report yon to the Doctor, sir," said old Mangles, gravely, as he let Dicky in through the small side gate.

"I wish you would take me to him at once, Mangles," was Dicky's surprising reply.

Mangles stared.

"Very good, sir," he said, and within a couple of minutes Dicky found himself being ushered into Dr. Fair's big, comfortable room.

"Master Dent, sir—late for gates," said Mangles briefly, and departed.

The Doctor was stretched in a long easy-chair. His glasses were on his nose and a book in his hand. He rose slowly, looking a little puzzled.

"Why did Mangles bring you here, Dent? It was sufficient if he reported you."

"Because I asked him to, sir," replied Dicky.

The Doctor's kindly face grew grave.

"What! More trouble, Dent?"

"Yes, sir, and it's all my fault again," declared Dicky recklessly, and forthwith poured out the story of the past half-hour's doings.

The master shook his head.

"No doubt your intentions were good, Dent, but I must tell you that you could hardly have done anything more foolish. Now Miss Morland has just cause for complaint, and this trouble which might have died a natural death is revived again."

Dicky hung his head. He felt that what the Doctor said was true. He had not told him the reason why he had been to see Cicely, and he felt he had better not do so now. The Doctor considered a moment.

"No doubt I shall hear from Miss Morland about this matter," he continued. "Meantime I shall give you the usual punishment for being late. You will be gated for two days and learn by heart fifty lines of verse, which I will set you tomorrow. Now you can go."

Dicky went away, feeling more unhappy than ever. It seemed that all he had done was to upset the Doctor, of whom he was very fond.

Outside he met Tom Burland, who was waiting for him, and told him the whole story. Tom's red hair seemed almost to bristle with indignation.

"Yes, it was Calvert who did it," he declared fiercely. "Just the sort of sweepish thing he would do—to send an unsigned letter like that. The chances are that he has at some time followed you and watched you talking to Cicely."

"But it might have been Janion," suggested Dicky.

"Not a bit likely. Janion is too much taken up with trying to get money out of Miss Morland to worry about a small job like that. No, it's Calvert—depend on it!"

"I expect you're right," said Dicky. "Seems to me that Calvert's as bad as Janion. And how I'm gated for two days, and it's all up with my chances of finding the bag again."

"Don't be an idiot," was all the comfort he got from Tom. "Two days isn't much. You needn't think Miss Morland is going to cave in and pay that five hundred pounds in two days."

The two walked about talking until prep. bell rang, when they both went into the big schoolroom.

Just before the hour was up the door opened and in walked the Doctor, and went straight to the big desk. This was unusual, for one of the junior masters always took evening preparation, and an expectant silence settled over the room.

"I have something to tell you," said the Doctor. "Miss Morland wishes me to say she has made a rule that, during the present term, not any of her pupils are to be allowed to see their brothers. She says that she will severely punish any of the girls who break this rule, and both for your sisters' sakes and for mine I trust you will all be careful to do as Miss Morland desires."

There was a moment's silence, which was broken by a voice.

"It's not fair, sir."

"It's not fair," echoed a dozen others.

The Doctor raised his hand.

"Quiet, all of you!" he said sternly. "Whatever your opinions on Miss Morland's new rule, I ask you as a personal favour to obey it. I may tell you this—that if you fail to do so the consequences may be very serious, not only for yourselves, but for the school itself."

There was no doubt he meant what he said, and so grave was his voice and manner that the muttering died away, and the boys eyed one another in silent dismay.

Tom leaned over to Dicky.

"Miss Morland's been threatening to take away the playing-fields," he whispered in his ear; and Dicky gasped with dismay when he realised that Tom's guess was probably true.

A minute later the clock struck, and the boys, picking up their books, streamed away to their dormitories.


CHAPTER 14
Dicky Becomes Unpopular

AS Dicky went up the stairs he caught sight of Calvert deep in whispered conversation with two big boys named Gilkes and Doran, who were both in his own dormitory, and as he passed they all scowled at him.

Poor Dicky, full of his own troubles, did not realise the new ones that were awaiting him. He was just beginning to undress when Gilkes and Doran came up to him in a blustering manner.

"You're a nice chap, you are," began Gilkes angrily. "What do you mean by getting us all into this beastly row?"

"Yes, what do you mean by it?" added Doran. "Going sneaking over into the coppice to talk to your sister, and getting caught like that by the old lady!"

"It wasn't my fault I was caught," returned Dicky with spirit. "It was the fault of the fellow who sneaked."

"Fellow who sneaked!" retorted Gilkes roughly. "Who sneaked?"

"That's what I'm jolly well going to find out," answered Dicky. "Someone wrote an anonymous letter to Miss Morland; that's how she caught us."

"Rot!" sneered Doran. "You're just saying that to get off the licking you deserve. I suppose you'll try to tell us the whole thing wasn't your fault from the beginning."

Dicky reddened. He could not truthfully deny that it was not through him and Cicely that the trouble had started.

Ever since Miss Morland's bag had been stolen from the train everything seemed to have gone wrong. It was true that Dicky had enemies who were trying to cause trouble, but even so he realised that it was through his forbidden visit to Cicely that the breach had been widened between Miss Morland and Dr. Fair. Not only that, but he had angered dozens of his schoolfellows, who, through no fault of their own, were cut off from seeing their sisters at Warley for the rest of the term.

By this time most of the other boys had come round.

"It's all Dent's fault," cried one of them, Slade by name. "Now I shan't see my sister the whole term, and we're cut out of those jolly good teas at Warley."

Gilkes looked round.

"Dent deserves a dormitory licking. What do you chaps say?" he called out so that all in the dormitory could hear.

"He jolly well does," chimed in Slade. "The young ass has spoilt the whole term for us."

Dicky turned to spring back, but was hemmed in against the wall. Before he could do anything Gilkes caught him and flung him flat on his face on his bed.

"Give me a fives bat, Doran," he ordered.

But Dicky, nimble as an eel, twisted out of Gilkes' hold and managed to regain his feet.

Slade grabbed him, only to get Dicky's small but hard fist planted on his jaw with a force that sent him crashing against the wash-stand. A big tin can went overboard and fell with a frightful clatter, sending a flood of water washing across the floor.

Gilkes vaulted over the bed; but Dicky saw him coming, and, lowering his head, butted him just about the third waistcoat button, whereupon Gilkes sat down with a force and suddenness that shook the floor.

"Good for you, Dicky," came a voice, and Tom Burland, who had just come into the room, burst through the crowd and ranged himself alongside his chum. "Come on, the lot of you!" he cried. "We two will take you all on!"

The others hesitated. Tom was a notoriously tough youngster and useful with his fists, and already they had had a taste of Dicky's quality. They muttered among themselves, but it was quite clear that they were not too anxious to accept Tom's invitation.

It looked as if the row would die down when, at this critical moment, the door opened and Lawrence Calvert walked in. Being one of the senior boys, he was allowed to sit up an hour later than the rest.

"What are you kids making such a beastly row for?" he demanded.

Then his sharp eyes fell on Dicky and Tom backed against the wall.

"Oh, it's Dent again, is it?" he sneered.

"We're licking him for going sneaking into the plantation to talk to his sister over the wall," said Doran sourly.

"Well, why don't you?" jeered Calvert. "You don't mean to say that you're scared of two little beggars like him and Burland?"

"Of course we're not," growled Doran angrily.

"Then go ahead and give him his licking," said Calvert. "I'll see fair play."

Dicky's heart sank. He knew what Calvert's idea of fair play would be.

"Go on!" urged Calvert as Gilkes and Co. still hesitated, and as he spoke he moved up closer.

"Come on," snapped Doran, and he and Gilkes and Slade all rushed forward together.


CHAPTER 15
The Tables are Turned

DICKY hit out with all his might, but Gilkes ducked and closed. At the same time Doran got his arms round Tom Burland.

Dicky was conscious of Calvert's jeering laugh, then he was down, with two or three boys on top of him. He still struggled, but the weight was too great for him, and this time they gave him no chance.

Gilkes and Slade held him until his legs were tied with a towel. Then he was flattened out on his bed, and Slade sat on him while Gilkes got hold of the fives bat.

Down it came with such a crack that Dicky had to bite his lips to suppress a cry of pain.

"That's the ticket!" chuckled Calvert. "That's what he wants! Lay it on well, Gilkes! Give him a dozen. That'll teach the sneaking little brute!"

Dicky held his breath, expecting another blow—a blow that never came.

"And that will teach you, Calvert!" came a cool, clear voice, followed instantly by a sharp, smacking sound and a crash that shook the floor.

Dicky felt Slade's weight removed from him with startling suddenness, and struggled up, to see Calvert flat on the floor and Joe Last standing over him.

There was a slight, mocking smile on Joe's clean-cut lips, but on Calvert's face an expression of such savage fury as made Dicky shiver.

"Very nice to have your bullying done by deputy," went on Joe, in the same level voice. "Not so nice when you yourself are the victim. But come now. You're not going to lie there all night. Get up, and let's see what you're made of."

Calvert rose slowly to a sitting position. His upper lip was cut and bleeding. He took out a handkerchief and pressed it to the cut.

Joe stood, still as a statue, waiting.

"Hurry up, Calvert," he said at last. "I know you're a bit of a funk, but surely you're not going to show the white feather before all these kids. You'll never be able to bully any of them again if you do."

The taunt got home. Calvert leaped to his feet. Though not so tall as Joe he was ever so much broader and heavier, and he was nearly a year older. The two were a complete contrast in every way—Joe with his tall, slim frame, keen, well-bred face, and clear, open eyes; Calvert, shorter but enormously square, his face broad and thick, with dark hair low on his forehead, and small, deep-set eyes which glowed with savage anger.

"I'll half kill you for that!" growled Calvert, and flung himself at Joe, striking out with all his force.

It was a blow that if it had got home would have knocked most men down, but somehow it never reached its mark. Joe side-stepped swiftly, his long arm shot out, and Calvert staggered back against the wash-stand.

"Cave! Look out! It's Mr. Mason!" came a hissing whisper from a small boy at the door.

In an instant everyone was flying for his bed. Joe glanced round as coolly as ever.

"Pity!" he remarked. "It was just getting interesting. Never mind, Calvert; we'll continue in our next."

He turned to meet the assistant master as he entered the room.

"It's all right, sir," he said, with a smile. "Just a bit of a dust-up, but Calvert and I have settled it, and they're all in bed."

Mr. Mason, who was not a bad sort, looked round.

"There was a tremendous row, Last," he said, rather doubtfully.

"That water can, I expect, sir," replied Last easily, pointing to the overturned can. "We'll swab it up so that it won't go through the ceiling."

"All right, then," said the master as he turned away. "Good-night, Last."

"Good-night, sir," replied Last.

As soon as the master had left the room Last turned to Calvert.

"That puts the hat on it for tonight, Calvert. But any time tomorrow."

Calvert stared at him sullenly.

"You'll be sorry for this the longest day you live, Last," he answered, and though he did not raise his voice there was a grating malice in it, the remembrance of which kept Dicky awake for an hour or more.

But Last merely smiled, and strolled away to his bed at the end of the room.


CHAPTER 16
Between Twelve and One

DICKY found his gating a far worse punishment than the lines he had to learn.

To be gated meant that he could not even go into the playing-fields for a game of football. What made it harder to bear was that the next day was a half-holiday, and that he and Tom had meant to spend the afternoon in trying to find out what Janion was after.

Morning school was over at twelve, and as it was a lovely morning nearly all the boys made off at once either into the village or up to the field. Even Tom Burland was raked in for Soccer practice; and Dicky, left with nothing particular to do, wandered disconsolately back into his class-room and sat down to write a letter home.

It was so quiet that Dicky could distinctly hear the buzzing of a big blue-bottle on the ceiling, while the scratch of his own pen sounded absurdly loud. He wrote very slowly, for he had to be careful not to let his mother know anything about this business of Miss Morland. He and Cicely had already agreed to keep silent on that subject.

Quite suddenly the silence was broken by a voice in the quadrangle outside. Joe Last was speaking, and though he spoke very quietly every word reached Dicky's ears through the open window with absolute distinctness.

"Look here, Philip! I've squared things for you once, and you may take it as the surest thing on earth that I'm not going to do it again. I've had enough of it."

"I'm not asking you to square anything for me," returned Philip, in a sort of impatient whine. "What I'm telling you is that I haven't a penny to treat a pal at the tuck-shop or buy myself a pot of jam. What am I to do about it?"

"Do without."

Joe's tone was as cold as ice, and as hard.

"But I can't," answered Philip fretfully. "Surely you can see that a chap must have a bit of pocket-money?"

"You've got your shilling a week."

"What's the use of that?" snapped back Philip, with an angry look in his blue eyes.

"It's as much as most chaps have, and, seeing that Mother can't afford more, you'll have to do with it."

"You don't do with it," retorted Philip.

The two were now standing not twenty feet away from the window, and Dicky could hear every word they said, What is more, he was listening breathlessly and, indeed, shamelessly.

Dicky was no fool, and he was devoted to Joe Last—more than ever since Joe had saved him from the dormitory licking last night.

From the conversation he had previously overheard between Calvert and Last he knew that Joe was hard-up. Another thing he remembered was the time when he had met Philip outside Jupp's, when Philip had tried to borrow from him and Joe had interfered so sharply.

Now he was putting two and two together and just beginning to realise that Joe owed his troubles to Philip's abominable extravagance.

After Philip's last retort there was a moment's silence.

Dicky slipped out of his seat and glanced through the window. Joe Last and Philip Aylmer were almost exactly below, standing facing one another, and Dicky could see Joe's face, set like stone and deadly white.

"Why do you say that, Philip?" demanded Joe at last.

"Because you've got money. I know you've got money," Philip answered.

"The money I had I used to pay your bill at Sugg's," said Joe.

"Not all of it," replied Philip quickly. "There were more notes in your pocket-book. I saw them."

Joe's face seemed to grow more white and set than ever.

"That money is not mine," he answered coldly. "Neither you nor I can use it."

Philip scowled.

"That's a good way of getting out of it," he sneered. "All right; if you won't give me some money I know someone who will."

Joe came a step nearer. His eyes were like cold fire.

"If you dare borrow money from anybody, Philip, I'll give you the biggest thrashing you ever had in your life!"

Philip slunk back, and Dicky saw the look of fright on his face.

"I think you're a perfect beast, Joe!" he said. Then suddenly he turned vicious. "I'll jolly well tell Mother next time I write home!"

Dicky distinctly saw the quiver that crossed Joe's face, saw his fists clench, and for a moment thought—yes, and wished—that Joe was going to knock Philip down. But with an obvious effort Joe controlled himself, and his hands dropped to his sides.

"You won't do any good by that," was all he said, and suddenly swung round and went in at the main door of the building.

Philip stood watching him a moment, then, still with the same scowl on his weak, good-looking face, walked away in the opposite direction.

Dicky went back to his desk and sat down, but he did not go on with his letter. His mind was much too full of what he had just seen and heard, and while he sat he was deep in troubled thought.

Suddenly the door of the class-room opened, and as Dicky looked round there was Joe Last.

His appearance shocked Dicky. His face was drawn and white, and his intensely blue eyes had a look of strain and misery almost beyond description. He did not see Dicky, who was partly hidden by the blackboard, but just dropped into a chair and sat staring at nothing.


CHAPTER 17
When the Door Creaked

DICKY began to feel horribly uncomfortable. He was so sorry for Last that it simply hurt, yet he quite realised that Last thought he was alone and probably wanted to be alone, so, getting up very quietly, he made for the door on tip-toe.

He got to it unheard, but as he opened it the hinge creaked loudly, and Last whirled round.

"Who's that? You, Dent! What are you doing here?"

Dicky stopped short.

"I—I was writing a letter," he stammered.

"Then what do you mean by sneaking out of the room like that? Why aren't you in the field with the rest?"

"I—I'm gated," replied Dicky.

Something in the smaller boy's face touched Last. His anger vanished.

"It's all right, Dent. I didn't mean to be short, and, after all, you've got as much right to be here as anyone else. What are you gated for?"

Dicky explained how he had been caught talking to Cicely in the coppice and how he had been before the Doctor.

Joe nodded, then smiled.

"You poor kid! You certainly are in hot water all round. And that's why those fellows were on your track last night—eh?"

"Yes, Last, that was it. But I don't think they would have done anything if it hadn't been for Calvert. I spotted him talking to Gilkes just before we went up to dormitory last night. I believe Calvert was egging him on."

Joe's face hardened again.

"Calvert," he repeated. "That fellow's the curse of the school. He loves bullying, and is never happy unless he's making somebody else miserable."

"He is a bit of a cad," said Dicky soberly. "And, Last, he hates you."

"That's no news," replied Joe, with a wry smile. "He and I have had it in for one another ever since we first met. If the beggar would only stand up to me I shouldn't care; but that's not his form. He never has played the game, and never will. But what's the use of getting cross? He can't do much."

"Oh, can't he?" burst out Dicky, then suddenly shut up.

Joe got up from his seat, and looked hard at Dicky.

"What do you mean, Dent?"

Dicky hesitated.

"Out with it!" said Joe sharply. "You know something!"

"Yes, I do," admitted Dicky. "I heard Calvert talking to Janion about you."

Joe stiffened.

"Talking to Janion about me!" he gasped; and his face was like chalk, while his eyes fairly blazed. "Talking about me!"

Dicky sat quite still, too startled at the effect of his words to speak or move.


CHAPTER 18
In the Box Room

JOE LAST pulled himself together with a quickness that was almost as startling as his sudden outburst.

"Birds of a feather," he said, with a slight sneer. "But how do you know this, Dent? Where did you see the two together?"

Dicky told him of his visit to the marl pits, in company with Tom Burland, on the previous afternoon, and how he had seen Calvert and Janion together, and how Janion had told Calvert that it was simply spite against Last that had brought him there.

Joe listened with a fixed attention which much impressed Dicky, and questioned him keenly afterwards.

"And you say Janion lives at this cottage in the Hollow by the pits?" he enquired.

"Yes; I had that from Sergeant Croome," replied Dicky.

Joe nodded.

"Sort of beastly hole the fellow would live in," he remarked slowly.

Dicky ventured a question.

"But Janion can't hurt you, Last?" he asked earnestly.

Joe hesitated a moment before replying.

"Yes, Dent," he answered, rather grimly. "He might."

Dicky looked worried. "Can't we do anything, Last?"

"How do you mean?"

"Well, it was Janion who stole Miss Morland's papers, wasn't it?"

"Yes," said Joe—then corrected himself—"at least, there seems every reason to think so."

"Well," said Dicky, "if we could catch him with them, he'd be put in prison, and he couldn't bother you or any of us any more."

Joe smiled oddly.

"Who is to catch him?" he asked. "Croome's been doing all he knows for some days past, and he doesn't seem to have got much forrader."

"No," agreed Dicky, "but then Janion is always on the look-out for the police. I heard him say as much yesterday. It seems to me that some of us would stand a better chance than the police of finding out what the fellow's up to and where he's hidden the papers."

Joe's eyes opened widely.

"'Pon my word, for a kid you've got your head screwed on all right, Dent," he remarked; and Dicky flushed at such praise from his hero.

"It's what I want to do," he said eagerly.

Joe's face changed again.

"No," he said sharply. "You leave Janion alone. He's a dangerous brute."

"But," protested Dicky, "we simply must find those papers. It's bad enough being cut off from Cis, and all the other chaps who have sisters at Warley being in the same box, but it'll be a jolly sight worse if Miss Morland takes away our playing-fields."

"Takes away our playing-fields?" repeated Joe, in a tone of dismay. "This is the first I've heard of any such thing."

Dicky explained, and told Joe about the letter which Miss Morland had had. "It must have been Janion who wrote that," he ended.

Joe nodded slowly.

"Probably it was." He paused. "It's a rotten business," he said, with a sort of groan, then fell silent. He looked so unhappy that Dicky felt more sorry than ever.

"I say," he said at last; "I've got a cake in my play-box. I wish—I'd be pleased if you would come and have a bit."

"Cake? No, I don't want—" began Joe sharply, then, seeing the disappointed look on Dicky's small face, he changed his mind. "Yes, come along, kid. It's very decent of you. I'll have a piece."

Together they left the class-room and went round to the long, shed-like room where the play-boxes were kept.

The door was open, and at first the place seemed empty. Then, just as they got inside, a voice made itself heard.

"All right, Aylmer, here's ten bob. Will that do you?"

It was Calvert speaking.

Dicky glanced at Joe, and saw a sudden flare of anger in his eyes.

Next instant Joe had made a rush forward.

"Philip, give that money back to Calvert," Dicky heard him say.


CHAPTER 19
Calvert's Threats

"AT once," ordered Joe, and there was a tone in his voice that brooked of no delay.

Philip, scared but sullen, offered the note to Calvert.

Calvert put his hands behind his back.

"I don't want it," he said coolly. "I've lent it to you, Aylmer."

"You take it back," said Joe. His voice, not raised a single tone, vibrated slightly.

"What do you want to come butting in for, Last?" demanded Calvert. "It's no business of yours."

"That's just where you make a mistake, Calvert. Take that note back, or take the consequences."

Calvert faced Joe, His heavy face was one scowl, and his thick brows were drawn over his narrow eyes.

"You touch me," he threatened, "you lay a finger on me, and I'll give the whole show away."

"What show?" asked Joe, coolly.

"If I say what it is you'll be sorry," growled Calvert.

"Say anything you please," returned Joe. "It's all the same to me."

Dicky, watching the scene with breathless interest, saw a puzzled look cross Calvert's face. Whatever secret threat Calvert was holding over Joe, Dicky fancied that he was, somehow, not very sure of his ground.

"You'd best think twice, Last," threatened Calvert, recovering himself. "If I went to the Doctor with my story you'd get the sack pretty quick. You know that."

Joe's eyes did not fall.

"Bah, you know nothing! And if you did go to the Doctor it's you who'd get the sack; or if you didn't the school would be too hot to hold you. Take that note back at once or I'll set about you. And if I do it isn't the dinner-bell that's going to save you."

Calvert was literally trembling with ill-suppressed fury, and it was some seconds before he could control himself sufficiently to speak.

"All right," he said at last. "I'll take the note back. But you wait, Joe Last. I'm not quite ready for you yet, but when I am you look out. You'll get a lesson you won't forget in a hurry."

Joe laughed scornfully.

"I'm quite willing to wait," he answered coolly.

At that moment the dinner-bell began to clang, and Calvert turned toward the door.

"You won't have to wait long," he said, with an ugly sneer.


CHAPTER 20
A Regular Tangle

ALTHOUGH Tom Burland sat next to Dicky in the dining-hall Dicky could not tell him anything of what had happened until dinner was over. Then he hurried him away to a seat under the elms in the quadrangle and gave him a quick account of his talk with Joe and of what had happened in the box-room.

Tom frowned.

"It just bears out what we heard yesterday," he said. "But I do wish I knew what Calvert had got up his sleeve."

"We've got to find out," said Dicky, forcibly. "Whatever happens, that's the first thing to do."

Tom nodded.

"Yes; we can't let Last down. He's much too good a chap. But it's a rum sort of tangle altogether, Dicky, That ass Philip Aylmer seems to be Joe's chief trouble."

"Yes; and it's quite plain that Calvert was lending him money just to worry Joe. Calvert's not the sort to part with ten bob without a precious good reason."

"You're right," agreed Tom. "He's as mean as they make them." He paused and considered a little. "From what you say Last must be very hard up."

"Yes. I heard about that last term. Mr. Aylmer, Philip's father, died suddenly, and Mrs. Aylmer was left with very little money. I expect it's about all she can do to pay their school bills. I know Joe Last never spends a penny on himself."

"Yet somehow Joe got money enough to pay Philip's bill at Sugg's," returned Tom, "and to pay that ten bob to Calvert as well. And now Philip says he has money."

Dicky nodded.

"And that money," Tom continued—"that money, Joe says, belongs to somebody else."

"That's what I heard him say," replied Dicky.

"Well, where did Joe Last get the money?" asked Tom plump and plain. "And whose money is it?"

Dicky looked distressed.

"That's just what's worrying me so horribly, Tom. To save me I can't imagine where he got it."

"No more can I," said Tom, "but I rather fancy Calvert must know and that's what he's holding over Joe."

Dicky looked horrified.

"You're as good as accusing Joe of being a thief, Tom!" he exclaimed, indignantly.

"No I'm not. But suppose that Joe had found the money and used it?"

"I don't believe Joe would do a thing like that," replied Dicky stoutly.

"I shouldn't have thought so either," allowed Tom. "Still, you never know what a chap may be driven to do if he's really hard up. Anyhow, Calvert knows something or he wouldn't talk as he does."

"Then Janion knows something, too, for you remember what he said yesterday."

"Yes, Janion knows something. The whole thing seems to work round in a circle. It's my belief, Dicky, that if you and I could bring Janion to book we could get it all cleared up."

Dicky shrugged his shoulders.

"I dare say you're right, though I haven't the foggiest notion how it works."

Tom did not answer, and the two sat silent until a sound of heavy steps made them look round. They saw Calvert walking straight toward the gates. There was a curious look of purpose on his heavy face. He did not see the two boy's, who were partly hidden by the trunk of the big elm at the foot of which they were sitting.

Dicky leaned over to Tom.

"I'll bet he's going to see Janion."

"I shouldn't wonder," answered Tom.

"And here am I gated," said Dicky bitterly, "so I can't follow him."

"No reason why I shouldn't," replied Tom coolly.

"Oh, would you?"

"Why, of course I'm going to!" said Tom. "I'll just wait till he's out of the gate. Then I'll be on his track."

"You'll be careful, Tom?" urged Dicky. "If he spots you it will give the whole show away."

Tom smiled.

"Don't you worry, old man. I'm not soft enough to let Calvert get his eyes on me. Now you sit tight, and don't worry. I'll have news for you by tea-time."

He rose as he spoke, but when Dicky would have followed him to the gate Tom stopped him.

"Better sit tight." he advised. "We've got to be jolly careful over this show. So long, and don't worry."

It was good advice, but not too easy to follow; and Dicky, with nothing to do but think and wonder how Tom was getting on, spent a distinctly unhappy afternoon.

He tried to settle down to reading, but it was no use, and most of the time he spent wandering up and down the deserted quadrangle, alternately watching the clock and the gates.

The longest hours come to an end, and at last the boys began to come down from football, running off to their dormitories to change for tea.

The hands of the big clock pointed to five-and-twenty past five, and still no sign of Tom. Dicky went to the gates and looked up and down the road.

Suddenly he saw a thick-set figure come tramping along, head down. It was Calvert, and Dicky shrank away and took refuge behind the big elm. Calvert passed within ten yards, so close that Dicky, from his hiding-place, could plainly see his face. His heart sank as he noticed the expression of ugly triumph on the boy's heavy features.

"He's got what he wanted," Dicky said to himself. "And where's Tom?"

As soon as Calvert was out of sight he went again to the gates. Still no sign of Tom! The tea bell began to ring; and Dicky, with his heart in his boots, walked slowly toward the hall.


CHAPTER 21
Tom's News

TEA seemed to last about a year, but the moment it was over Dicky started again for the gates. He had hardly reached them when Tom walked in.

"Tom!" gasped Dicky.

"Hush!" whispered. Tom swiftly. "I've got to report myself. Meet me in the box-room in a quarter of an hour. And don't worry. I've got some news."

All the rest of that long afternoon had hardly seemed so long as that last quarter of an hour, but the fifteen minutes had hardly ended before Tom turned up.

"I say," he began, "the Doctor was decent. He let me off with twenty English lines."

"Yes, but Calvert. What about Calvert?" demanded Dicky.

"All right. I'm going to tell you the whole thing. It was just as we thought. Calvert went straight up to the Hollow. It was easy as pie following him. I just kept the other side of the hedges, and he never knew anyone was within a mile of him.

"He went up to Janion's place, and knocked. I'd got into the marl pits by that time, and had squatted among the bushes where I could see quite easily. No one answered, and Calvert got fearfully wrathy. He tried to get in, but that was no use. The doors were locked, and the windows have got boards nailed across them.

"At last he turned round, and I thought he was going away. I felt pretty sick that I'd had all my trouble for nothing. And just then Janion came slinking in from the upper side of the Hollow, exactly like an old dog-fox.

"Janion spotted Calvert, and began blowing him up for coming to the Hollow; Calvert talked back, and they had a regular slanging match. I almost thought they'd start hitting one another, but after a bit they cooled down and came to business. And what do you think Calvert had come for? It was the bag—Miss Morland's bag."

Dicky's eyes widened, and his whole face expressed utter amazement.

"Calvert wanted Miss Morland's bag!" he repeated. "B-but what for?"

Tom shook his head.

"That beats me, Dicky. As far as I could hear Calvert didn't say a word as to why he wanted it, but I think Janion knew all right."

"And did Janion give it him?"

"No, he didn't! When Calvert asked Janion for it, Janion got simply furious, and said the most awful things. Calvert got very wrath, too, but he kept his wool, and at last I heard him offer Janion money for the bag.

"They bargained for ever so long, and I couldn't hear all they said, for sometimes they were only whispering. But at last they struck some sort of bargain."

"Did Janion give him the bag?" broke in Dicky breathlessly.

"No, he hadn't got it. It seems he'd hidden it."

"Where?"

"All right. Don't get excited. I was going to tell you. It's up in one of the Swallet Holes."

Dicky gasped.

"What—in the cliffs?"

"Yes, and Janion's going to fetch it for him."

Dicky looked utterly dismayed.

"He'll go tomorrow, I suppose, and here I'm gated and can't go after him!"


CHAPTER 22
Long Leave

"DON'T get excited, Dicky," said Tom drily. "Janion's not going tomorrow. Calvert wanted him to, but he said he couldn't. He told him he had to go to Greenshields, and that he'd go the next day."

The gloom lifted like magic from Dicky's face.

"Splendid! And it's a half, too. We'll get after him."

Tom was not so sanguine.

"That's all very well, but suppose he goes first thing in the morning? Even if we get leave off dinner we can't go till twelve."

Dicky's face fell again.

"I hadn't thought of that," he said unhappily.

"We must take our chances," said Tom soberly. "If we can get off at twelve we might catch him coming back. It's a goodish way up to the Swallet Holes, and a chap like Janion doesn't get up early."

Dicky, perched on the edge of a playbox, sat silent, frowning.

"It's no use our meeting him, Tom," he said, at last. "We couldn't take the bag from him."

"No," agreed Tom, "but we might see what he did with it, and perhaps collar it out of his cottage. We've just got to set our wits to work."

Again Dicky thought a while before replying. Then he burst out:

"It isn't the bag we want, Tom; it's the papers!"

"That's just what I was thinking of," answered Tom. "Question is, will they be in the bag?"

"Perhaps. But Janion won't give them up to Calvert. He's holding them for the reward he wants to screw out of Miss Morland. But, Tom, what in the world does Calvert want with the bag?"

Tom shrugged his shoulders.

"I haven't a ghost of a notion. But it isn't for any good. You can be sure of that."

"It's the craziest sort of puzzle," sighed Dicky. Then his face cleared, "But never mind. We'll manage to get leave on Saturday, and somehow we'll find out something."

Tom grinned.

"That's the proper spirit, old chap. Now we'd better go and get our books,"

Next day, Friday, was a full school day, and, though it seemed a year long, Dicky did not find it as bad as the day before.

Saturday dawned fine and clear, but with a hard look in the sky and a strongish breeze. The great question that worried Dicky all through the early morning school was whether he and Tom would be able to get long leave. Senior boys who were going for long walks got it easily, but it was not always granted to juniors. The time to apply was just before second hour, and Dicky felt desperately nervous as he tapped at the Doctor's study door.

"You want long leave?" said the Doctor, frowning a little. "What for?"

"Burland and I are going for a bit of a tramp, sir."

Dicky looked straight at the Doctor.

"I haven't had much exercise the last two days, sir," he ventured to suggest.

The Doctor smiled, and Dicky knew his cause was won.

"All right. The matron will give you some sandwiches. Don't get into trouble."

"Thank you very much, sir," answered Dicky gratefully, and was off like a bird to tell Tom. But as he went his pace slackened. "Don't get into trouble," he repeated. "I say, I wonder what the Doctor would say if he knew what we were going to try to do."

This, however, did not seem a very comforting train of thought, so Dicky set it resolutely aside and made up his mind to trust to luck.

Two hours later, their pockets stuffed with sandwiches and cake, carrying also string, knives, matches, an electric torch, some candle ends, and various odds and ends, they slipped off quietly and hurried away in the direction of the Hollow.


CHAPTER 23
Joe Defies Janion

THE two reached the Hollow without meeting anyone except a farm hand busy lopping a hedge.

There was smoke rising from the chimney of Janion's dilapidated cottage, and the sight raised their spirits. It looked as if the man were at home or, at any rate, not far off.

But whether he had already been to the Swallet Holes that morning or was going in the afternoon was a point on which they could not be certain. They slipped into the thick growth above the Hollow and dropped down to consider their plans.

Dicky boldly suggested that he should go and scout, and peep through the windows of the cottage in order to see whether Janion was there or not.

But Tom thought this proceeding too risky, and suggested that they had better sit where they were and eat their luncheon.

"The chances are," he said, "that Janion is having his dinner. Then if he's going to the Swallet Holes he'll start pretty soon. If lie's been there already, why, then the bag is in the house, and he'll be waiting for Calvert to come for it. Calvert hasn't got long leave, so he can't be up here before half-past two."

Dicky had to admit that this was sound sense, and the two sat and slowly ate their sandwiches and cake. Nothing happened, and even Tom began to get restless. Two o'clock boomed faintly from the church clock in the valley far below, and still all was quiet.

They waited until Dicky got fairly desperate.

"I'm jolly well going to creep up and see if Janion is there," he said. "I can easily hide in all those thick nettles."

Tom frowned.

"I don't like it," he said. "There's not only the risk of Janion catching us, but we don't want him to see us at all."

Dicky nodded.

"I know that, but we're wasting all our time. We must do something. I'm going, Tom."

He was actually starting when Tom grabbed his arm.

"Wait! There's someone coming."

He pointed; and Dicky, looking round, saw a tall, upright figure walking swiftly up the hillside.

"It—it's Joe Last!" he gasped.

"It's Joe, sure enough," replied Tom. "Now perhaps we shall find out something."

They dropped again into the thick cover. Dicky's heart was thumping uncomfortably. Though by this time he knew that Joe was in some way mixed up in this queer business, he was still quite in the dark as to how. And he hated the idea of Joe having anything to do with anyone so unpleasant as Janion.

Joe's approach was very different from Calvert's. He came straight up to Janion's miserable hovel and gave a good hard thump on the rickety old door.

There was a short pause, then the door opened and Janion appeared. He was in his shirtsleeves—a very dirty shirt. He certainly had not shaved that morning or brushed his hair. Dicky doubted if he had even washed. He looked thoroughly frowzy and disreputable.

The sight of Joe Last seemed to cause him both annoyance and fright.

"What do you want?" he demanded, scowling. "You haven't got no business here."

Dicky could see Joe's lip curl scornfully.

"I certainly shouldn't come for pleasure," Joe replied curtly. "You can be pretty sure of that. I have to speak to you."

For a moment Janion's face was so ugly that Dicky almost thought he was going for Joe. But he seemed to think better of it.

"Don't stand outside there, then," he snarled. "You can't tell who may be spying around. Come on inside."

Joe did not move.

"Spying," he said bitterly. "Do you mean the police?"

"Yes," growled the man. "Croome's had a chap hanging round here off and on for several days past."

"Why don't you clear out, then?" asked Joe.

"Clear out! How can I? I've got no money to keep myself, let alone to go travelling." He paused. "And that's your fault," he added, with an ugly expression.

Dicky was quivering with excitement. What Janion meant he could not imagine. He waited breathlessly for what was to come next.

He was doomed to disappointment.

"Come in, I tell you," went on Janion urgently. "It ain't safe for us two to be seen talking." And Joe, though with evident reluctance, followed the man through the low-roofed doorway.

Dicky turned to Tom, and for once Tom's usually stolid face was as full of disappointment as his own.

"What does it all mean?" demanded Dicky.

But Tom shook his head.

"It beats me," he confessed, and fell silent.

Dicky lay still, racking his brains and listening with all his ears. There was very little glass left in the window, and he hoped that he might hear something that would shed some light on the mystery.

But though the two voices were just audible, he could not distinguish a word that was being said.

Some minutes passed, then suddenly Janion's voice rose hoarse, loud, and threatening.

"Not much, I tell you. Promises ain't good enough for me. You've got to give me ten pounds. If you don't I splits."

Dicky caught his breath.

Then he heard Joe Last laugh—a hard, reckless laugh.

"You might as well ask me for the moon," he retorted, and his voice, though not raised like Janion's, was clear enough just to reach Dicky's ears. "And as for splitting, as you call it, you know jolly well you daren't do anything of the kind."


CHAPTER 24
At the Foot of the Cliff

THE door of the cottage banged open, and Joe strode out.

Dicky, craning forward, saw Janion came rushing after him and seize him by the arm. Quick as a flash, Joe spun round and wrenched himself free.

"Keep your hands off me," he ordered, in a tone of such concentrated anger that Janion recoiled.

Joe fixed his eyes on the man.

"I am going," he said, "and you had better not try to stop me. But before I go I'll tell you this: you are the last man on earth who will ever get a penny of that money."

He swung away, and walked quickly out of the Hollow in the direction of the school.

Janion stood watching him. The man's face was not pretty to look at, and he was speechless with fury. Though his lips moved no sound came from them.

As Joe disappeared among the trees Janion turned and rushed back into the house, banging the door furiously behind him.

Tom looked at Dicky.

"That rather puts the hat on it," he remarked.

But Dicky refused to be discouraged.

"I don't see it, Tom. If Joe has refused to give Janion money, Janion will have to get it out of Calvert. Janion's awfully hard up. That's as plain as a pikestaff. You see, Miss Morland won't pay him what he has demanded, and meanwhile he hasn't got anything to live on. He said so to Joe."

Tom shrugged his shoulders. "You may be right, Dicky. Then you think Janion will go and get the bag from the swallet hole?"

"Yes; I'm pretty sure he will."

Tom considered.

"I wonder which hole it is. There's more than one. In fact there are a dozen of 'em."

"If we follow him we shall find out all right."

Tom glanced towards the distant cliffs which bounded the Merle valley on the north. He grinned.

"It's going to be a bit of a picnic," he remarked.

He had hardly said the words before Janion's door opened again, and out came the man himself. But now he had his coat on, and an old tweed cap.

For a moment he stood quite still, looking all around with a suspicious scowl on his hard face; then, seemingly satisfied, he turned, locked his door, put the key in his pocket, and started away up towards the back of the Hollow.

"Told you so," said Dicky, with quiet triumph. "He's going to the swallet hole."

Tom nodded, and rose quietly to his feet.

"Got all your stuff?" he asked.

Dicky felt in his pockets.

"Yes—matches, candles, cord. Have you got the torch?"

"Yes, and my big knife; and there are a few sandwiches left. Come on."

It was about two miles from the marl pits to the cliffs. Luckily for the boys, Janion was careful to keep off roads. He stuck to field-paths, and this, of course, gave Dicky and Tom a much better chance of following him without being spotted.

But he went pretty briskly, and now and then the boys had to make a run for it in order to keep him in sight.

At the point for which Janion was making a gorge cut right through the cliffs—a gorge very wide at the mouth, but narrowing farther in. The main road to Tranton ran through this gorge, and the cliffs towered grimly above it on each side.

But Janion kept clear of the road and walked up to the left. Here the ground was more open. It was great grassy slopes, and at first sight it looked as if it would be impossible to follow anyone across them without being seen.

Tom and Dicky, however, knew, the country well, and, keeping still farther to the left, gained the bed of a brook which rose out of a hole at the foot of the cliff, and, dropping down into it, worked up it. As the channel was quite deep they were completely bidden from any prying eyes.

In this way they kept well up with their quarry, and when he reached the foot of the cliffs they were level with him and only a couple of hundred yards to his left. Hidden just under the rim of the bank of the ravine, they watched him.

Janion turned and looked round. But the spot was a lonely one; even the road was not much used. The man went a little way along the foot of the cliffs, then began to climb.

The cliffs, which here towered to a height of over a hundred feet, were very broken. Bushes grew here and there, and there were many ledges and sheep paths along their face.

The boys waited until Janion was well started, then Dicky looked at Tom.

"Come on," he said, in a low voice, and set to climbing upwards.


CHAPTER 25
The Slit in the Rock

THIS was the most risky part of the business. For one thing neither of the boys knew exactly for what point Janion was making; for another, there was always the risk of their finding themselves right out in the open. And Dicky, at least, knew Janion too well to have any doubt of what would happen if the man did discover that they were following him.

But their luck held, and all the way up they were able to find shelter of one sort or another.

At last they were on a ledge some sixty feet up, and, crouching behind a tuft of brambles, were able to see Janion a little higher and no more than a couple of hundred feet to their right. They saw him hoist himself up over a rim of ragged rock, and next moment vanish as if the cliff face had swallowed him up.

"He's found his swallet hole all right," said Dicky, with quiet satisfaction.

"I never knew there was a hole there," replied Tom.

"The cliffs are riddled with them," said Dicky. "Come on."

The ledge they were on led them right up to the point where Janion had disappeared. Here Tom gave Dicky a leg-up, and Dicky found himself looking straight into a narrow crack running deep in the face of the cliff.

Excited as he was, he could not help noticing what a capital hiding-place it made. Half-hidden by a mountain ash, it was invisible from below and equally so from above. The mouth was only about two feet across, but he could see that the cave was much wider beyond.

Dicky looked hard into the cave for some moments, and presently caught a flicker of light in the depths. He dropped back beside Tom.

"He's in there all right. What are we to do, Tom?"

Tom's jaw set firmly.

"Why, go after him, I suppose."

"But if he comes out just as we go in?" suggested Dicky, and glanced back uncomfortably at the tremendous drop behind them.

"Well, we've got to get the bag," replied Tom doggedly. "And, anyhow, it's no worse to meet the fellow inside than out here."

Dicky's eyes flashed.

"You're right," he said, in a sharp whisper. "Come along."

A moment later both were on the ledge at the mouth of the cave. But now the light inside had vanished.

In spite of his resolve to have the bag Dicky hesitated a moment. His heart was thumping, and there was a nasty tight feeling in his throat.

Dicky had a lot more imagination than Tom, and, besides, he knew better than Tom the ugly, dangerous temper of the man they were following, For the moment he heartily wished himself safe out of it all back at the bottom of the cliff.

Then his native pluck came to his aid; he set his teeth, and, ducking his head, slipped quickly into the narrow slit in front. Tom followed.

Three cautious steps Dicky took, then found himself in a wide passage, with plenty of head room. The entrance was so narrow that very little light came in; only just enough, in fact, to see that, a few yards farther on, the passage curved sharply to the right.

The two stood listening, silent as mice, but there was no sound from within. Tom touched Dicky's arm.

"What shall we do new?" he whispered.


CHAPTER 26
Cut Off

DICKY's nimble wits were already at work. What he had realised first of all was that they must find some hiding-place in case Janion came back on them quickly. And, as luck had it, there was the very place, as if made to order, for close at his elbow, on the right-hand side of the passage, was a deep recess, very narrow and dark, but quite big enough for the two to squeeze into it.

Quickly he pointed this out to Tom.

"We can wait for him there," he whispered.

"Yes; but what's the good of that?" asked practical Tom. "He'll just walk right past us and take the bag with him."

"No, he won't," answered Dicky quickly, and whipped his ball of cord from his pocket.

Tom looked mystified, but only for a moment. Then his face cleared.

"I see," he said; "trip him up, you mean?"

"That's the ticket. If we can only fix the string across the floor."

"We can do that all right," said Tom, who was all there when it came to doing things. "That big stone opposite! It's the very thing!"

As he spoke he pulled out the loose end of the cord, made a loop and a running noose, and, stepping lightly across the passage, flung the noose over the big stone opposite and tightened it. Then he carried the ball back, and squeezed into the recess alongside Dicky.

"We leave the string loose on the floor till he comes along, then we lift it and catch him," he explained.

"But, I say, we'll have to be nippy about getting the bag and clearing out."

Dicky did not answer. The difficulties, not to say dangers, of the situation were only too clear to him—so clear, indeed, that they did not bear thinking about. If Janion saw the string, for instance, or even if he didn't and merely stumbled, then what he might do in his blind rage was not pleasant to consider.

The worst of it was that if this did happen they were completely at his mercy. The passage leading into the inner cave was far too narrow to allow them to dodge past him; while, on the other hand, there was no retreat.

It was pretty certain that the man would catch them before they could squeeze out through the narrow entrance, and even if they did succeed in gaining the ledge outside they would be equally badly off.

You cannot make a bolt down 60 feet of nearly sheer precipice without coming badly to grief. Indeed, the very thought of being forced to try it made cold chills creep down Dicky's spine.

Luckily, perhaps, the wait was not a long one, for Tom was hardly back by Dick's side before there was a sound of nailed boots clinking on the rock door of the inner cave.

"He's coming!" said Tom, in a breathless whisper. Even he was excited. As for Dicky he could hear his own heart beating so plainly that he almost felt that Janion must hear it too. The die was cast. There was no going back now.

Clink! clink! came the steps, a dull glow of light was visible round the corner, and for the moment Dicky really ceased breathing.

There was an angry growl from Janion, who had evidently bumped himself against one of the many spikes which projected from the walls of the cave; then the man himself came into sight around the angle of the curve. In his right hand was Miss Morland's bag. His squat, heavily-built figure nearly filled the narrow passage, and Dicky was so fascinated by the sight of the bag that he hardly noticed the formidable bulk of the man, indeed for the moment he actually forgot the string.

Not so Tom. As Janion came slouching along he pulled it taut, putting all his weight on it.

Janion, with his eyes fixed on the opening, never saw the cord, which was only about six inches from the ground. He walked straight into it, caught his foot, swayed forward, and fell with a crash.

As he fell his candle flew from his hand and went out, leaving only the dim gleam of daylight to illuminate the scene.

Tom jumped out, and Dicky almost on top of him. Next instant the ray of Tom's electric torch flashed out, and by its light Dicky saw the bag lying against the wall of the passage, where it had dropped from Janion's hand as he fell.

He snatched it up only just in time, for Janion, who was not even stunned by his fall, was already struggling to his feet. Worst of all, he was between them and the entrance, and Dicky saw in a flash that it would be impossible to pass him.


CHAPTER 27
Tight Places

IT was in a tight place like this that Dicky's wits got most quickly to work.

"This way, Tom!" he snapped, and, seizing the other by the arm, swung him round the curve of the passage.

By the light of Tom's electric torch they saw a passage stretching away endlessly in front of them, sloping down into the heart of the hill.

Dicky was so quick that they were both round the curve and running hard before Janion was on his legs again.

But their start was not a long one, and next moment they heard the man pounding after them and yelling to them savagely to stop. His language was furious, but they neither of them wasted any time in listening, for their one idea was to put as much space as possible between themselves and Janion.

In spite of the danger they were in Dicky was conscious of a wild feeling of triumph. He had the bag, and he vowed that whatever happened he would not let Janion have it again.

The passage widened, and by the light of Tom's electric torch Dicky could see that they were in a regular cave.

The roof, hung with shining stalactites, was a long way overhead, and the walls were almost out of sight. The floor, very uneven and littered with lumps of rock and curious mounds of stalagmite, sloped always downward.

So rough was the going that it was impossible to run very fast, but luckily this told against their pursuer as well as themselves.

Another point in their favour was that they had light and Janion had none. He had not had time to relight his candle, and he was chasing them by the gleam of Tom's torch.

This was not a wise proceeding on his part, and it was not long before he paid for his folly. They heard him trip and come down a fearful crash, and for a moment Dicky pulled up, hoping that the man was out of it.

But in this he was disappointed, for, fairly bellowing with rage and pain, Janion got to his feet again and came charging after them.

"Drop that bag! Drop it, or I'll break every bone in your body!" he yelled; and the echoes caught his voice, and from every side came weird threats. "Every bone—every bone—every bone!"

It was horribly uncanny, but the boys were too busy trying to get away to pay any attention.

"Where are we going?" panted Tom, as he sprang across a pool of black water set in a little hollow in the floor of the cave.

"Don't know. Perhaps we can dodge him," answered Dicky breathlessly.

Tom lifted his light a little, and both saw that they were coming to the end of the cave. The roof was dropping right down to the floor, and the stalactites, meeting the floor, made a forest of pillars.

Dicky's heart sank. It looked as if they were absolutely trapped, and if they were forced to turn to bay they had no weapon—not so much as a stick—against Janion.

Yet there was nothing for it but to keep on and trust to finding some passage or hiding-place.

Once more luck was kind to them, for suddenly the white beam of the torch showed the mouth of a low-roofed passage dead ahead.

They reached it, and flung themselves into it; but Janion was close enough to see where they had gone, and they heard him give a yell of savage triumph.

"He must know something. Perhaps it's a blind alley," was Dicky's thought; but for Tom's sake he said nothing.

This passage was much wider than the outer one, but also much lower, and presently the roof came down so low that they had to bend almost double.

It curved, and as they came round the bend Dicky gave a gasp of despair.

What he had feared was only too true. The passage shut down into a mere crack, looking no wider than the space between two bookshelves.

"He's got us," he murmured despairingly.


CHAPTER 28
The Great Smoke Trick

LOW as Dicky's voice was Tom heard.

"Not yet," he said doggedly. "We're smaller than Janion, and we can get farther in than he can. Get down on your hands and knees, Dicky. Crawl!"

There are few things less pleasant than to wedge yourself between two surfaces of solid rock that are not more than a couple of feet apart, especially when both are rougher than the coarsest sandpaper. It is worse still when you are in the heart of an unknown cave, in blackness and gloom, lit only by the feeble ray of a small torch.

But anything was better than falling into the hands of Janion, and, regardless of scratches and bruises, the two went wriggling and squirming forward until there was no longer room even to crawl, and they were almost flat on their faces. Then, being unable to get any farther, they were bound to stop.

In the black darkness behind them they heard Janion's heavy breathing, and presently there was the scratch of a match and a gleam of light. Janion had lit a candle, and was holding it at arm's length into the recess. They heard him chuckle, and it was a sound that did not make either of them happier. The note of triumph in it was only too plain.

"I got ye now!" he said triumphantly; and, lying flat on his face, reached in to seize them.

But the boys had drawn themselves up as closely as possible, and Janion's groping fingers were still a foot or two from their toes.

And, wriggle as he might, he could not get at them, for he was much too thick and bulky to squeeze into the space where they had found refuge.

Dicky began to feel a little happier. True, there was not much to feel happy about, for Janion was between them and safety, and Dicky was not sure how long he could stand the cramps which were already beginning to tingle all over him. Yet it was something that Janion could not reach him or Tom, and he began to wonder if they could not make some sort of bargain with the man.

But before he could make up his mind what to say Janion's voice came again.

"Think you're safe, do you?" he sneered. "You just wait a bit."

He laughed again, a harsh cackling laugh, which grated unpleasantly on Dicky's ears.

Dicky felt more nervous than ever, and with great difficulty wriggled round so that he could get a sight of the man. Janion, he saw, had retreated a little to a place where the roof was high enough for him to sit fairly comfortably. He had fixed his candle on a piece of rock, and Dicky could see that he was taking an old newspaper out of his pocket.

This he crumpled up into a ball, then, taking a bottle from another pocket, poured some of its contents on the paper. The liquid looked like oil.

All of a sudden Dicky understood. The man was going to set fire to the oily paper and smoke them out.

For a moment Dicky felt almost sick with fright. In a confined space like this it would not take much smoke to make the air unbreathable. He and Tom would be blinded and choked. He twisted himself round again, meaning to tell Tom of Janion's abominable plan.

But Tom was no longer there!


CHAPTER 29
Boxed!

FOR the moment Dicky was paralysed with amazement. He could scarcely believe his eyes. Not only Tom, but his torch also, was gone. The only light came from a match which Janion had just struck.

Suddenly he heard a rustling, scratching sound, which seemed to come from some little distance to his right; then Tom's voice in the merest whisper:

"This way, Dicky! Come this way. Quickly!"

Dicky set to crawling again, and found that, though it had been impossible to go any farther straight ahead, he could manage to work along sideways. There was one place where floor and roof were so close that he could only squeeze past, but beyond this he suddenly found much more room.

Next moment, with a gasp of deepest relief, he quickened his pace and bumped into Tom.

"Steady!" whispered Tom in his ear. "I believe there's a way through from here into another cave."

"Why do you think so?"

"Because there's a draught. Can't you feel it?"

"I do believe I can. Hadn't you better turn on the light so that we can see?"

"Wait a moment. We can go ahead a bit in the dark, and I don't want Janion to spot us if we can help it."

"We'd better be quick. He's going to smoke us out."

"I thought that was what he was after," replied Tom. "Hulloa! He's started!"

As Tom spoke there was a glare of smoky light behind them, and at once a reek of oily vapour came pouring past them. It stung Dicky's eyes and throat, but he managed not to cough, and, keeping close enough to Tom to touch him, wriggled steadily onward. There was just room to pass, and no more.

And now there was no doubt about the draught. It was blowing quite plainly in their faces, and as each yard of progress took them farther away from the burning paper the smoke became less troublesome.

Presently Dicky raised his hand, and found he could only just touch the roof. His spirits rose with a bound.

"We're all right, Tom. We have heaps of room here. Switch the light on again."

Tom did so, and Dicky could have shouted with joy when he saw that in front the roof rose steadily until its sweep was lost in the darkness.

"We're in another cave," he exclaimed. "Why, there's almost room to stand up!"

"Thought I was right," said Tom, with much satisfaction. "Strikes me we've settled Janion's hash, anyhow."

"Look out! He's coming through!" said Dicky, in a scared voice.

He was right. Janion had just discovered the escape of the two boys, and in a fury of rage had flung himself head foremost into the crack, and was desperately endeavouring to force his way through.

"Come on!" said Dicky, urgently, catching Tom by the arm.

But Tom stood still, holding his light so that he could watch Janion.

"He's all right, Dicky," he answered. "He can't get through, and if he tries much harder he'll probably stick fast, and stay there for good."

As he spoke he held up his torch, so that the light fell full on Janion, and it looked as if his prophecy were going to prove a true one.

Janion had got to the very narrowest part of the crack, and had wedged himself so tightly that it really seemed as if he could go neither backwards nor forwards. He was wriggling like a toad under a harrow, and making a noise like a broken-winded horse.

"Enjoying yourself?" asked Tom, sarcastically.

Janion heard and glared at him, but he did not answer. The actual fact was that he had not breath left to do so.

"What a pity we can't photo him!" went on Tom, with a grin. "He'd make a really pretty picture."

Janion was fairly foaming, but now even he realised that the boys were out of his reach.

He began to try to work back, but in his rage he had worked himself so tightly between the two surfaces of rough rock that it was almost impossible for him to move at all. Indeed, if he had not managed to get a hold with one hand upon a little projecting knob of stalactite he would never have got himself out at all. But this helped him, and at last, with most of his buttons off his waistcoat and his clothes split in every direction, he did win free.

The last thing the boys saw of him was his face purple with exertion and dripping with perspiration, and wearing an indescribable look of baffled fury.

He shook his great fist.

"All right, you brats!" he growled. "I can't reach you, but there's one thing as maybe you've forgot. You can't get out any way but this. And here I stays and waits for you—I don't care if it's a year!"

Tom slowly turned, and for once there was real dismay on his square, stolid face, as he stared open-eyed at his chum.

"I say, Dicky," he said slowly "the beggar's right. We're properly boxed here, and if he sticks to what be says we're done."

Dicky looked all around. Behind them was the passage sloping steeply into unknown depths of rock. It looked as if it might dip into the very centre of the earth. In front was the narrow space through which they had crawled, and Janion was behind that space. The man was right. They were boxed with a vengeance.


CHAPTER 30
Finding a Way

"YES," said Dicky slowly; "it doesn't look exactly cheerful." Then his lips tightened. "Whatever happens, I'm not going back, Tom; and Janion isn't going to have this bag."

"Of course not!" replied Tom quietly. "All the same, we can't stay here. We've only got four sandwiches, and those won't keep us very long."

"But I don't suppose Janion has any," replied Dicky.

"Not likely he has," agreed Tom; "but then he can slip out and get food."

"But if he does we can go, too," said Dicky quickly.

"Yes; but how are we to tell whether he has gone or not? Of course, he would pretend to leave, and then we should find him waiting for us round the next corner."

Dicky's face fell, for he knew that his practical-minded chum was right. However long they waited there was no saying that Janion would not be watching for them.

Dicky turned and looked along the big passage at the head of which they stood.

"What about trying that?" he suggested. "As you said yourself, Tom, the cliffs are riddled with holes and caves, and there are other openings. There's the big show cave on the Tranton Road. We might find our way down into that."

"We might," said Tom, rather grimly. "On the other hand, we might not. Suppose we lose ourselves in these horrible passages, we might wander round till our candles gave out and we starved."

Dicky shuddered, for the prospect was not a pleasant one. But he refused to abandon his idea.

"We've got to try something," he urged, "and it's no use staying here. It isn't as if anyone knew where we were, or would come to look for us."

Tom considered for a few moments, then nodded.

"That's true, Dicky, Yes, I suppose there's nothing for it but to have a shot for another way out. But we shall have to mark our way somehow, so that if we do get hung up we can get back here. It'll be bad enough to face Janion, but even that would be better than starving in the dark. How many candles have we got?"

They laid out their store. There were two whole candles and two ends, also Tom's electric torch. But the torch was already dimming a little, and the battery could not be expected to last much more than half an hour.

"Switch it off," said Dicky. "I'll light a candle. Luckily we have heaps of matches." He lighted a candle, and Tom switched the torch off and put it in his pocket.

"How are we going to mark our way?" questioned Dicky. "I've heard of people using a reel of thread, but we haven't got one."

"Don't worry. I know a dodge," answered Tom. "You simply make a mark with candle smoke on the wall each time you make a turn."

"That sounds good," said Dicky. "All right. Let's go ahead."

Before they started Tom looked back into the crack. But there was no sign of Janion, nor could he see his light.

"He must have gone back into the main cave," he said, in a low voice. "Come on, then, Dicky."

The two started along the passage. It was broad and lofty, and though the floor was rough there was no real difficulty in walking. They noticed that all the way it sloped downward. In places the slope was quite steep, and once or twice they had to scramble carefully down over sharp ledges. So they went on for about two hundred yards, then quite suddenly the passage ended in a large cavern.


CHAPTER 31
The Rift

HERE the two pulled up and stared about them.

The feeble light of their one candle was lost in an immensity of gloom. All it showed was a portion of the roof that came down within a few feet of their heads and which was hung with large and beautiful stalactites.

At any other time the two boys would have been greatly interested in the beauties and wonders of this cave, but now they we

"We must walk round the edge and look for a way out," said Dicky.

"Wait!" said Tom. "We haven't marked it yet."

Taking the candle, he made a black line on the rock at the angle of the passage mouth. "Now we ought to be able to find it again," he remarked, and the two started off once more.

If the passage above had been easy the cave made up for it. The going was terribly bad. The floor looked as if a giant had broken up a lot of boulders, flung them in a heap, raked them over roughly, then frozen them all together. It was full of cracks and crevices, some shallow, some very deep.

What made matters worse was that in many places the stalagmite deposit lay thick on the rock surface, making it smooth as glass, and very difficult to stand on.

They went on and on, keeping in sight of the wall, until suddenly Tom, who was leading, pulled up so short that Dicky bumped into him.

"Be careful!" said Tom sharply, and flung himself down.

"What's the matter?" began Dicky, then stopped with a gasp. For the light of Tom's candle showed that, in front of them, the way was barred by a tremendous rift. It was only about six feet wide; but peering down into it Dicky could see no bottom.

"That's a nice sort of thing to run up against," he said in disgust. "How are we going to get across?"

"Blessed if I know," responded Tom; and, picking up a lump of loose stuff, he pitched it over into the rift. There was a pause of quite three or four seconds before, from the darksome depths below, there came a faint "plunk."

"Phew, it must be at least a hundred feet deep!" exclaimed Dicky.

"All of that," replied Tom. "We must find a way round."

The crack ran right up to the right-hand wall of the cave, so they started away to the left. The cave was enormously wide—about two hundred yards, they reckoned—and when they reached the opposite wall there was the crack, only at this side it was rather wider.

The two looked at one another in dismay.

"What are we going to do?" asked Dicky.

"Jump it," replied Tom stolidly.

Dicky shivered.

"It's all right," said Tom reassuringly. "It's only because it's so deep that one jibs at it. You or I can easily jump ten feet, and it's not more than six or seven."

"But it's so dark," objected Dicky, "and the take-off is so bad."

"Well, it's that or go back and face Janion," replied Tom.

"We won't do that," said Dicky firmly, yet at the same time his whole soul revolted at the idea of trying to leap this awful chasm.

"Tell you what," said Tom, in his practical way, "we'll light two candles, and you hold them while I jump. Then when I'm across I'll hold them for you."

Dicky clenched his teeth.

"I'll go first," he said.

Tom glanced at him.

"Just as you like," he said. "Here's the best place. I spotted it as we came along."

He walked quickly back for about fifty yards, and stopped.

"Here we are," he said, as he stuck his candle on a rock, and lighted a second one. "You can get a bit of a run, and it's lower the far side than it is this. Take it easy, Dicky. It's really as simple as pie."

Dicky said nothing, but Tom saw his face set and white in the candlelight.

"Wait a jiffy," said Tom, and, suddenly making a little run, he jumped and landed on the far side with a foot or more to spare. "Now chuck the candles over," he said coolly.

Dicky did so, and Tom fixed one on a rock, and held the other. Dicky still said nothing, but stepped back, took his run, and jumped with all his might, and he, too, landed safely on the far side.

"Good for you, old chap!" said Tom warmly.

"I'm nothing but a coward, Tom," Dicky said bitterly.

Tom laughed.

"My dear chap, there's no harm in being afraid of a thing as long as you do it. The truth is, you're much braver, for it didn't scare me a bit, and it did scare you."

As if in reward for their effort, the two found themselves quite close to the far wall of the cave, and almost directly in front of them discovered a good big opening. Going through it, they were again in a good-sized passage leading downhill, and as steeply downward as the other.

"Must have been a lot of water through here at one time," said Dicky.

"Water!" exclaimed Tom. "I thought it was volcanoes that made caves."

"Not this sort. This rock is limestone, and it was water that dug out all these holes and passages. That's why they all seem to run downhill."

"We must be pretty near ground level now, I should think," said Tom gravely.

"I dare say we are," agreed Dicky, "but one can't say. I only wish we were on it."

Tom pulled up short.

"I do believe we're getting there," he exclaimed eagerly. "Look at that! It's daylight!" Both pulled up and stared.

Sure enough a path of light struck down into the gallery a little way ahead.

Tom blew out the candle, and they hurried forward. Next moment they were both standing in a patch of real daylight. But what a disappointment! It came from an opening in the right-hand wall of the passage, but the recess was so high overhead and so tremendously deep that they could not see out.


CHAPTER 32
Curtain Cave

"BIT of a sell!" said Tom grimly.

"Horrid!" returned Dicky. "Still, it seems to show we're going in the right direction. I expect that opening is in the side of the gorge."

Tom nodded.

"Very likely it is, but it's no use to us. Let's go ahead."

Regretfully they lit their candle again, and pushed on down the passage. This got bigger and bigger, till presently they could only see one wall, and realised that they had reached another cave, and this was even larger than the other two they had traversed.

It was so lofty that their candlelight did not reach the roof, and by the way in which the echoes whispered away into the distance they were sure its width matched its height.

But this cave was not as silent as the last. From somewhere came a gurgle and tinkle of running water.

"An underground river," said Dicky eagerly. "If we can only follow it perhaps we may find a way out."

"There is a brook that runs through the big show cave in the gorge," added Tom quickly. "The one they call Cripp's Cavern."

"Then this is it, depend on it. Come on. Let's have a Look."

All eagerness, they hurried forward, only to be brought up suddenly opposite the most astonishing sheet of spa rock. It looked like a monstrous curtain hanging from the roof in massive folds. But the wonderful thing about it was its colour. The candle-light struck from it the most exquisite tints—pink and rose shading into delicate creams and yellows.

"How absolutely topping!" exclaimed Dicky.

"Yes, but it's right in our way," returned Tom. "We must get round it."

This they did without much trouble, and after hard scrambling reached the edge of the stream. This brimmed in a shallow channel, clear as crystal, and the first thing they both did was to drop down and have a good drink. The water was cold as if iced, and delicious.

The next thing was to follow the stream down. But here disappointment awaited them, for before it reached the wall of the huge cavern through which it ran the stream dropped down through a small shaft in a beautiful little fall.

Dicky lay flat on his face and looked down.

"It doesn't fall far," he said.

Tom shrugged his shoulders.

"I should hate to go down there," he said. "You might lose your footing and land up in some big pool. Besides, a candle would never burn in all that spray. We must find some other way out."

Dicky agreed, and they started off to make a circuit of the whole cavern. It took a long time, for the place was at least a third of a mile round.

At last Dicky started forward.

"Here's a passage!" he cried.

Tom came up quickly. He stared at the wide opening. Then stepping across to the opposite wall he pointed to a black smudge on a lump of white stalactite.

"It's the same one we came in by," he said quietly. "Here's our smoke mark."

Dicky stared at his chum in utter dismay. The shock of the discovery was so great that he could find no words to express his feelings in.


CHAPTER 33
Dicky Makes Up His Mind

TOM was the first to speak.

"We shall have to go back, after all, Dicky," he said slowly.

Dicky would not hear of it.

"Go back!" he exclaimed. "Go back and have to cross that great rift again, and then meet Janion! Not much! Besides, it would take hours, and we shouldn't be out again before dark."

Tom shrugged his shoulders.

"I hate the idea as much as you do, but what else is there to do? We've been all round this cave, and there's no way out."

"There is. There's the place where the stream runs out."

Tom looked blank.

"We can't get down there, old chap, or if we did the chances are we'd never get back again."

Dicky set his teeth.

"I'll try it. See here, Tom: we know it isn't very far down to the first step. We'll tie our coats together, and you can let me down as far as the bottom of the first little fall. I'll take your torch, and have a look. Then, if we can't get any farther, you can pull me up again, and we'll go back."

Tom looked doubtful. Dicky stamped his foot.

"I'm not going back until we've had a shot at the fall. I tell you that straight, Tom."

Tom nodded.

"All right," he said slowly. "I don't mind telling you I think it's perfectly crazy, but if you're so set on it we'll try."

He turned as he spoke, and they walked back to where the little brook gurgled cheerfully and musically through the black gloom. As they went Tom was thinking how extraordinary it was that Dicky, who had been so scared about jumping the rift, which after all was really easy enough, should now be willing to take what seemed the maddest possible risk. He could not understand it.

Even in the light of their one candle the great cavern was beautiful beyond words, but neither of the boys paid much attention to the wonders visible all around them. Their minds were occupied with the desperate adventure ahead.

Presently they were back at the spot where the brook took its plunge into the unknown depths.

Dicky again lay down flat and examined the hole carefully. It was about five feet across, and the brook, being quite small, fell over the edge in a crystal sheet no more than two or three inches deep, and perhaps a yard wide.

By turning the light of Tom's electric torch downward Dicky could plainly see that the first fall was only about seven feet in depth. From the bottom of the fall the water seemed to slide away down a steepish slope, but beyond that he could tell nothing. Presently he stood up and peeled off his coat.

"You mean to try it, then?" asked Tom.

"Of course I do! Tie your coat to mine. The two will be quite long enough."

"And suppose the water carries you away, and you get stuck in some vile tunnel down below there?"

Dicky's face was white, but set firmly.

"Don't croak, old man. I shall hang on till I am sure of my footing. If it is too bad you can haul me up."

Tom made no further objection, for he saw that it was useless. All the same, he was anything but happy as he took his own coat off and knotted it on to Dicky's. He tested the knot, then Dicky took hold of one end and slipped quietly over the edge of the hole opposite to the fall.

The lamp he had shut off and put inside his shirt, so as to save it from getting wet. The only light they had to work by was from one candle-end, which Tom had stuck on top of a rock overhanging the hole.

Tom let Dicky down very slowly. Presently the strain slackened.

"All right." came Dicky's voice, sounding oddly hollow. "There's good footing, and the water's quite shallow."

There was a click, and the light of the electric torch shining out showed Dicky moving slowly down the bed of the stream.

The tunnel was fairly high—high enough, at any rate, for Dicky to walk upright, but it was very narrow. The rock walls were polished smooth by the action of past floods, showing that at times the water filled the hole to the roof. The passage ended, and Tom lost sight of Dicky, but could still hear him splashing through the water.

Some minutes passed—for Tom very nervous minutes—then at last he heard Dicky returning, and presently he was in sight again.

"What luck?" asked Tom eagerly.

"It seems all right," replied Dicky. "The water's shallow, and there's plenty of head room. But there's another drop beyond, and I want you to help me."

Tom hesitated.

"If I get down there we can never get back again, Dicky," he said.

"We don't want to get back. We're going on," replied Dicky firmly. "I'm sure there's a way through," he added. "There's quite a draught blowing up from below."

Tom was silent.

"All right," he said quietly. "I'm coming."

He took the candle, put it out, and, letting himself down over the rim of the hole, dropped.

Dicky was waiting, holding the light.

"We've done it now, Dicky," said Tom. "We can't get back up there—not without a rope, and that we haven't got."


CHAPTER 34
Disaster

DICKY did not answer, but merely turned and led the way down the tunnel. There were drifts of sand underfoot, evidently brought down by the water, and Tom could see that in flood-time the tunnel must be filled to the very roof. They went on for about thirty yards, then arrived at the second fall.

"It's not deep," said Dicky.

"No, but it's horribly narrow," grumbled Tom. "We shall get soaked. Have you got the bag all right?"

"Inside my shirt. It will keep dry. Now let's have the coats again."

Tom let him down. He could see that Dicky got rather wet in the process, but he was relieved to hear his voice from below.

"All right. Lots of room. More than up above there."

Tom followed, and, dropping quickly, escaped most of the water. He landed on soft sand, and looked round.

"Quite a big place," said Dicky.

"Yes," agreed Tom, yet rather doubtfully; "but there's a lot of this sand."

"What do you mean?"

"I only hope it hasn't choked up the tunnel farther on."

"Oh, nonsense! Why should it? Come on."

The tunnel wound onward, always dropping steeply. As Tom had said, there was any amount of sand, and here and there whitish objects showed among it. Tom stooped and picked one up.

"Ugh, it's a bone!" he exclaimed, and dropped it hastily.

"It's all right," said Dicky; "they're only fossils. The place is full of 'em. I've got two or three in my pocket."

They turned another corner, and here the roof was much lower. Presently they had to stoop, and after a while were reduced to crawling on hands and knees through the shallow water. The roof came lower and lower, and Tom's spirits sank to his boots as he saw it.

Yet Dicky kept on, creeping ahead and shining the light across the pale-yellow sand.

The yellow changed suddenly to black, and Tom saw that a few yards farther on the channel ended abruptly in solid rock.

"We've done it now," he said, with the calmness of despair.

Dicky turned slowly, and his small face was pinched and white in the thin glow of the electric torch. The battery was running down, and the light failing fast.

"I'm sorry, Tom," said Dicky.

Tom did not speak for a moment or two, then he made a remark which startled Dicky.

"Where's the brook?" he asked.

Sure enough the brook was gone, and both looked round to see what had become of it.

They crept back a little way, then found that the channel which ran through the sand had switched over to the right-hand wall, and that there the water vanished through a little sink-hole in the floor.

"Dig!" said Tom curtly. "It's our last chance."

Dicky laid the lamp aside and began at once, scratching up the sand with both hands, and Tom, too, worked fiercely. As they tore the hard sand away the water flowed more freely, and seemed to carry the sand down with it.

So busy were they that they did not notice the lamp, and it was only when the light had turned red, and nearly gone, that Tom stopped.

"We must light a candle," he said, and took one from his pocket. Then he fished out his match-box. "I say," he said uncomfortably, "the box is a bit damp."

He tried a match, but the head was soft. It would not strike.

"Try yours, Dicky," he said.

Dicky got out his box.

"Mine's wet, too," he said, in a shaking voice.

And just then the electric torch gave out completely, and they were left in black and utter darkness.


CHAPTER 35
When the Floor Fell In

FOR about half a minute neither of the boys moved.

The shock of being left here, buried in the pitch darkness, without a hope of getting out, and without a soul to know where they were, had left them in an almost paralysed condition.

Oddly enough, Dicky was the first to pull himself together. He stretched out his hand in the darkness, and touched Tom's arm. Tom, he found, was shaking like a leaf.

"Steady, Tom!" said Dicky. "The matches will dry. There's a chance still."

Tom drew a long, hard breath.

"All right," he said thickly, "but the waiting won't be very cheering."

"Never mind. We can talk. I'm putting the matches next my skin, so that the warmth will dry them."

There was silence again for a bit—silence broken only by the gurgle of the water pouring away down through the hole in the sand.

Tom began to fidget.

"Tell you what," he said at last. "I'll go on digging. I can feel the sand. No, don't you try it, Dicky. You mustn't risk the matches."

Dicky, squatting a little way back, heard Tom scratching again at the sand. Presently he heard something else—a change in the sound of the falling water. The gurgling was louder.

"What's the matter?" he exclaimed in sudden alarm.

"I don't know, Dicky, but all the sand seems to be dropping down."

"There's not more water coming, is there?" asked Dicky anxiously, for it was in his mind that it might have been raining outside, in which case, the stream might, he knew, rise suddenly, and perhaps drown them both.

"I don't think there's any more water," replied Tom; and a little later: "I say, I've struck rock."

Dicky's heart sank still lower, for he had had a vague sort of hope that they might have been able to enlarge the hole, so that they could get through. Next moment Tom spoke again.

"It's not rock: it's a loose stone. I can feel it move."

"Dig it out a bit more," begged Dicky. "Perhaps we can shift it between us."

More scraping, then Tom's voice again.

"I've got to the edge of it, Dicky, Think you can put your matches safe, and give me a hand?"

Dicky thought a moment, then put the matches inside his cap, and pulled the cap down on his head.

"All right," he said. "I'm ready."

It was difficult to manage in this pitch darkness, but at last they succeeded in getting a good grip of the stone. They could feel that it was large, but flat.

"Right you are! Heave!" said Tom.

They tugged and strained for all they were worth.

"She's coming!" panted Tom.

Almost as he spoke the stone turned right over. Suddenly there was a great clatter, a thud, and Dicky felt the whole ground on which he was sitting sinking away beneath him.

"Look out, Tom!" he shouted, and, flinging himself sideways, just managed to escape from being swallowed up in the pit which seemed to be yawning to receive him. He was conscious of a loud rumbling which went on for several seconds; then it ceased, and the only sound was the gurgle of the falling water.

"Tom!" he cried. "Where are you? Are you all right?"

There was no answer.

"Tom!" Dicky's voice was a scream. "Oh, Tom, where are you?"

Still no reply. Dicky sprang to his feet. He was nearly out of his mind with fright and anxiety.

Hardly knowing what he did, he went groping forward. Next moment the ground gave way beneath him, and he, too, went falling down into unknown depths.


CHAPTER 36
Light!

DICKY landed with a thud that knocked all the breath out of his body, and lay gasping, half-stunned, and for the moment unable to remember what had happened.

It was the chill of the icy cold water that brought him to himself, and he clambered up to a sitting position, to realise that he had been lying right under the fall and was soaked to the skin.

Where he was he had not the faintest notion. All he knew was that he had fallen on soft sand, and so had escaped injury.

Then he remembered Tom.

"Tom! Tom! Where are you?" he cried out in a perfect agony.

"I—I don't know," came a muffled answer.

Dicky's relief was so great that for a moment he could not speak at all. Until this minute he had never guessed how much the sturdy friendship of Tom Burland meant to him.

"Are—are you hurt, Tom?" he managed to get out.

"Not a bit, I believe; but I think I was a bit stunned at first. I was half buried in the sand, and I've only just managed to get out. What happened?"

"The floor of that upper place gave way," explained Dicky, "That stone we shifted, I expect it was a sort of keystone. But I say, Tom"—Dicky's voice was dull with despair—"I'm wet through, and I'm afraid the matches have gone up altogether."

"I fell clear of the water," Tom answered. "Perhaps mine will dry."

There was silence for a moment, broken only by the steady pouring of the little fall. Dicky slowly pulled himself together.

"We might creep along the stream," he said at last.

"But suppose it goes over another fall?" suggested Tom doubtfully.

"We shall hear it before we come to it," replied Dicky, "If we go along the bed of it we can't come to much harm, and it must run out somewhere."

Tom grunted, "All right," he said. "I don't mind."

"Then I'll go first," said Dicky.

Rising slowly, he stretched his hands above his head, but could not touch the roof. By the echoes, too, he knew that they must be in a fair-sized cave. He stooped until he felt the water, then began wading very slowly down the stream, dragging his feet so as not to risk going headlong into some deep pool or hole.

Of all the long underground journey that he and Tom had made that day this was infinitely the worst part. Dicky was wet to the skin, shivering with cold, and very tired.

Dicky's eyeballs ached in the vain straining for the faintest ray. He felt that he would have given anything for even a glimpse of Tom's face.

Added to all this was the terror of the unknown. For Dicky had to acknowledge to himself that neither he nor Tom had the faintest notion where this brooklet was leading them. For all that either of them knew it might pursue its course for miles underground, and at any moment they might come to some narrow pass where it would be utterly impossible to go farther.

And there was no return. That, at any rate, was certain. If the brook failed them, and if they did reach some impassable spot, why then there was nothing for it but to sit and starve to death in the utter darkness.

Dicky's very soul shrank at the prospect, and his teeth chattered with cold and fear combined.

Suddenly his groping fingers met with solid rock, and he stopped short and felt about.

Tom bumped into him.

"What's the matter?" he asked.

"I've struck rock," replied Dicky, in a voice which he tried hard to keep steady.

Tom did not reply, and Dicky went on feeling his way.

Step by step he worked over to the right. His feet were still in the water so he knew that he must be moving in the right direction, yet the rock seemed to bar the way, until presently he found himself out of the water and up against the right-hand wall.

He stopped.

"Oh, if I could only see!" he cried in despair.

A sharp exclamation from Tom made him jump.

"I can see!" said Tom, in a queer, thick voice. "I've just seen light straight ahead."


CHAPTER 37
The Voice

POOR old Dicky did not believe that Tom had seen a light. He thought that his eyes were playing him tricks, and he said so.

Tom was quite indignant.

"I tell you I'm certain," he answered sharply.

"Can you see it now?"

"No, it's gone again."

"But where could it come from? There's nothing but rock in front of us."

"There isn't. There's a hole, and the brook goes through it. Listen! You can hear it."

Dicky listened, and presently was convinced that Tom was right. He worked back until his feet were in the water again, then stooped down and felt about. And as he did so he, too, caught a faint gleam of light.

"You're right!" he exclaimed in intense excitement. "I've seen it, too."

"Told you I wasn't dreaming," grunted back Tom. "Is there any way through?"

"There's a crack," replied Dicky, in a voice which trembled slightly with excitement. "Oh, if we only had a light!"

"Well, there must be someone at the other end who's got one. Shout!" advised Tom.

Dicky let out a piercing yell. The echoes nearly deafened them both. Tom shouted, too, and they kept at it for some seconds. Then all of a sudden the light appeared again and a hoarse voice came rumbling up out of the distance. "Who is it? Is someone there?"

"Yes—yes!" shrieked Dicky.

"Great Scott!" came back the voice in a tone of the most utter amazement. "Is it possible?"

Dicky paid no attention to the remark. All he thought of was reaching the light. There was an opening, he found, but it was only about three feet high, and that was why he had not noticed it before. Now he managed to squeeze into it.

"This way, Tom," he said.

The water was deeper here, and Dicky had to crawl in it on hands and knees. The tunnel was a mere burrow, so narrow that in places he could barely squeeze through.

But Dicky hardly gave a thought to the discomforts. His eyes were on the light, and so long as he could reach that nothing else mattered.

A sand drift rose in front, and he had to scrape it aside before he could force his way through, but once on the other side the light was clearer. The roof was a little higher, and he crawled more rapidly. Then the tunnel began to slope, and suddenly he found himself sliding forward.

He tried to stop himself, but failed. He went quicker and quicker, and next moment, in the midst of a small avalanche of sand, shot, head foremost, through the opening from which the light came, to land with a tremendous splash in a small pool of water.

Instantly a pair of strong hands grasped him and picked him, dripping, out of the pool. He was hardly out before Tom came sliding after, but he, luckily, fell on his feet, and so escaped the plunge.

Dicky, dazed and half blind with the unaccustomed light, heard a voice addressing him in a tone of sheer amazement.

"Who are you? Where have you come from?"

He blinked up at his questioner, and saw a tall, sparely-built man, with a clean-shaven face and big bony nose.

"I—that is, we—come from Medland, sir. We've come through the caves."

"What caves?"

"I don't know, sir. All sorts. We got in near the top of the cliff out to the left of the gorge. Where are we now, sir?"

"You are in Cripp's Cavern, And—and you seem to have done what I have been trying in vain to do for years past."


CHAPTER 38
Opening the Bag

DICKY merely stood and stared.

"Tell me," said the other eagerly—"tell me, did you see any bones or fossils?"

"Yes, lots," replied Dicky, and, putting a hand into his sopping pocket, took out two or three of the objects he had picked out of the sand in the upper cave.

The tall man fairly snatched them and held his light close to them.

"A tooth of the machaerodus!" he exclaimed, and his voice quivered with excitement. "And—and this is a portion of the jaw of the cave bear. My lad, I congratulate you!"

Dicky did not answer. Now that the first delight of feeling himself safe had passed, he was feeling bitterly cold. His teeth began to chatter.

The tall man's expression changed. He seemed suddenly to realise the plight of the two boys.

"Dear me!" he exclaimed. "But you are terribly wet. You will be catching cold, I fear. Come with me to the keeper's house. There will be a fire there, and something to eat.

"You must forgive me," he continued, quite kindly. "I am Professor Perrin, and cave exploration is my hobby. I have long suspected that there were fresh caverns close by, yet never have I been able to find a way into them. Over tea you must tell me all about them."

Dicky ventured to remonstrate.

"It's very good of you, sir, but we have to be back at the school by half-past six."

The Professor merely smiled.

"Do not worry yourselves, my boys. I will drive you back to the school in my car after tea, and will explain matters to Dr. Fair, with whom I am well acquainted. If I tell him of your discovery I do not think that he will be hard upon you."

He spoke in rather a stilted way, but there was real kindness in his manner, and Dicky instinctively trusted him.

All this time he was hurrying them out through the main cave. This was a regular show place, properly lighted and with a made pathway through it.

In a very few minutes they were outside; and Dicky felt a thrill of delight at once more seeing green fields and trees which, only a little while ago, he had never expected to see again.

The keeper's house was only a few yards away; and the poor man, whose name was Rudge, got the shock of his life when the two boys were brought into the warm, well-lighted living-room.

"Wherever have the young gents been to?" he exclaimed.

Dicky, seeing himself in a glass, did not wonder at Rudge's question, for he and Tom looked like a couple of scarecrows, their clothes soaked, covered with mud, and torn in every direction, their faces white and scratched, their knuckles bleeding, even their boots broken and with the soles half off.

Mrs. Rudge, a stout, comfortable-looking woman, took charge of them at once, found some clothes that had once belonged to her own boys, now grown up, got hot water and towels, and gave them a room in which to change.

"And by the time you're ready, tea will be ready, too," she told them, as she left them.

"And I shall be ready for tea," said Tom, with a grin, as she went out.

It was pure joy to strip, wash, have a good rub down, and get into dry things, and neither of them wasted much time about it. But, quick as they were, Mrs. Rudge was quicker, and tea was on the table by the time they got down.

For the moment the boys forgot all their troubles in the enjoyment of the good things. They were desperately tired and stiff, but even more desperately hungry, Mrs. Rudge was delighted with their appetites, and heaped up their plates, and the Professor blinked at them amiably and plied them with questions about the caves.

Dicky did most of the talking, but was very careful not to say a word about Janion, and Tom followed his lead. They allowed the Professor to think that they had just been exploring.

"And these fossils," said the Professor, who was fairly gloating over the fragments which Dicky had given him. "I will buy them from you, Dent."

"Buy them!" exclaimed Dicky.

"No fear, sir! I'm only too glad you like them. I'll get you a lot more another time."

"You don't know their value, my boy," answered the Professor, but, like the gentleman he was, did not press the matter.

Tea over, the Professor went out to get the car. Tom took Dicky aside.

"I say, have you got the bag, Dicky?"

"Yes; it's rather wet, but all right," replied Dicky, producing it from under his coat. He glanced round to make sure no one was looking, then pressed the catch and opened it.

Tom looked at him blankly.

"Why, it's empty!" he cried.


CHAPTER 39
The Professor Plays Up

DICKY showed no surprise.

"But of course it's empty," he answered. "You don't suppose Janion was going to let Calvert have the deeds?"

"N-no, I suppose not, but I thought he might have left them in the bag and be going to take them out afterwards."

"Not a bit likely," said Dicky decidedly. "He'd have taken them out first of all and hidden them somewhere before he brought the bag out."

"Then they'd be in the cave?" said Tom.

"Very likely, I should think."

"Couldn't we get them?" asked Tom eagerly; "then all this bother would be done with once and for all."

Dicky shook his head.

"If we could get round there tonight we might get them. But of course we can't. And in a day or two Janion will know that we've got out, and then he'll find some other hiding-place."

Tom looked troubled.

"I wish we could finish the thing right off," he said. "It looks to me as if we'd had all our trouble for nothing."

"We haven't," returned Dicky quickly. "We've got the bag, so now Janion can't sell it to Calvert as he meant to."

Tom frowned still more deeply.

"I wonder what on earth Calvert wanted—" he began, and just then Professor Perrin strode back into the room.

"The car is ready, my young friends," he announced. "And it is past seven o'clock."

They flew, and after a hasty goodbye to Mr. and Mrs. Rudge, and thanking them for their kindness, they jumped into the car. It was a rather ancient affair, but in good working order, and the Professor proved to be an astonishingly good driver.

By road it was four miles to the school, a distance they covered in a quarter of an hour.

Old Mangles, the porter, looked distinctly astonished when he saw for whom he was opening the gates. Well he might, for Dicky and Tom were quaint figures, dressed as they were in funny old corduroy suits that did not fit them.

The Professor left the car at the gates, and went with them to the Doctor's quarters, a wing which stood on one side of the main school buildings.

Dicky felt decidedly nervous as Bell ushered them into the Doctor's study, and the expression on Dr. Fair's face did not make him feel any happier.

But Professor Perrin had no such feelings, and went straight to the heart of the business at once.

"I've brought your truants home, Fair," he said, "and if they are late you must blame me. They have been cave hunting, and both got very wet, so I had to dry and feed them before I brought them back."

"Cave hunting?" repeated the Doctor in a puzzled tone. Yet Dicky saw with relief that the stern lines of his face had relaxed a little.

"Yes," replied the Professor. "And let me tell you, Doctor, that they have made a most interesting discovery. They have found a way into a completely now range of caverns adjoining Cripp's Cavern. What is more, they have found a deposit of fossils, specimens of which go to prove my theory that these caves were inhabited by prehistoric man.

"I anticipate most interesting discoveries, and such as will make a stir in the scientific world. See here!"

He brought out the few fossils which Dicky had given him, and laid them on the table.

"Here is a tooth of the cave tiger; this is a bone of the cave bear, and here is a flint that is certainly Palaeolithic."

To Dicky's amazement the Doctor was as keen as the Professor. He began examining the fossils with such interest that for the moment he quite forgot the boys.

It was a good five minutes before the Doctor remembered their existence. Then he looked up.

"You can go, boys," he said. "Change your clothes; then go into evening school."

"And I must go too," said the Professor. "You'll have to lend me those boys for a whole day, Fair. Please do, for I really need them."

The Doctor smiled.

"I will see about that, Perrin, Well, if you must go, good-night. But come again soon. All this is most interesting."

Dicky held the door open for Professor Perrin, then he and Tom followed him out.

The Professor looked at them, and there was something like a twinkle in his eyes.

"Got you out of that rather well, I think," he remarked in a low voice. "Now, good-night, and here is something to buy jam with."

He slipped a little wad of rustling paper in Dicky's hand. "You can share that up," he said, and almost before they could thank him he was gone.

When Dicky unrolled the wad of paper he could hardly believe his eyes.

"Tom," he said in an awed voice, "it's a five pound note!"


CHAPTER 40
The Man in the Gorse

"WHAT are you going to do about the bag?"

The speaker was Tom Burland, and the time the following afternoon—that was Sunday. He and Dicky had gone for a walk after dinner and they were now on the common a mile beyond the school.

"I'm going to hide it," replied Dicky. "I've got it here." He produced it as he spoke.

"Why don't you lock it up in your play-box?"

"It'll be safer outside the school. Then when we get the deeds back we can put them in the bag and give it all back to Miss Morland."

Tom made an angry sound.

"I don't believe we shall ever get the deeds, and I haven't seen Fay for more than a fortnight, and I'm getting fed up."

Dicky opened his eyes a trifle. It was not like Tom to explode like this. But he himself was missing Cis more than he would admit, so he understood Tom's feelings.

"It is a poor sort of job, Tom," he admitted, "but don't get too worried. We've got the bag anyhow, and that's something."

Tom walked on without speaking, but Dicky could tell by his face that he was thinking hard, and at last he spoke.

"Look here, Dicky! don't you think it would be a good notion if we went to Sergeant Croome, and told him all about it? Seems to me that as we found the bag on Janion, that's proof against the chap, and they ought to be able to put him in prison."

Dicky frowned a little.

"I'd thought of that, too, Tom. But it seems to me that if Janion is arrested they won't be any nearer getting the deeds back. I don't believe he'd say where they were. Then there's another thing! He hesitated, and Tom broke in.

"Last, you mean?" he said.

"Yes," replied Dicky. "That's what's really bothering me. We both know that Last is mixed up in this in some way, though I haven't a ghost of a notion how. And we don't want to get him into trouble."

"Rather not!" said Tom, with emphasis.

"Then don't you think we'd better lie low for a bit, and see how it all turns out?" suggested Dicky.

Tom agreed, and finally they decided that they would hide the bag and do their best to find out what Calvert was after and what his plot was against Joe Last.

While they talked they had come to the edge of the common, a lonely spot but a very pretty one. To their right rough pasture sloped down toward the River Merle, which sparkled in the autumn sun. They could see a long way up the valley.

Indeed, the air was so clear that they could actually see Crosscombe Gorge six or seven miles to the north and the outline of the big dam behind which lay the large, artificial lake which supplied water for Salton, the big seaport nine miles to the south of Maplestone.

"Where are you going to hide the bag?" asked Tom, at last.

"I've a good mind to do it up in a parcel and give it to Rudge to keep for us," replied Dicky.

"That's not a bad notion," allowed Tom, and just then Dicky caught him by the arm with a quick, sudden grasp.

"Steady on!" he whispered. "There's someone in the gorse just over to the left of us!"

Tom did not start or turn his head.

"Did you see him?" he asked.

"I saw a bush move and the top of a cap."

"A school cap?"

"Not sure."

"What had we best do?"

"Walk on quietly. We must pretend we haven't seen him."

Without hesitation Tom began to stroll on.

Dicky kept beside him. His heart was beating rather fast, for he believed that it was Calvert who was spying on them. If it were, he would stay where he was, so long as he thought he was not seen, and the very last thing that Dicky wanted was to run into the bully in this lonely place. They were opposite the spot where he had seen the gorse quiver when suddenly the bushes parted, and a man stood up.

"It—it's Janion!" gasped Dicky.


CHAPTER 41
Treed!

JANION'S expression was the oddest mixture of amazement and rage. He stood glaring at the boys as if he were not quite sure whether he could believe his eyes.

Small wonder, seeing that he was under the impression that they were still hiding in the swallet hole where he had left a friend on guard, and where he was now going back to relieve the man.

"By gum, it is them!" he got out at last. "It's the brats themselves!" Having come to which conclusion, he made a sudden rush.

"Bunk!" said Dicky, curtly, but the order was needless, for Tom was already off.

Instinctively they both turned downhill toward the river. There was more chance of meeting someone down in that direction, though, even there, it was pretty lonely.

"Stop!" roared Janion. "Stop, or—" But, whatever his threats, the boys were much too busy to attend to them. The worst of it was that, being Sunday, they were both in Eton jackets and trousers, not nearly so good a kit for running as the grey flannel shorts they wore on weekdays.

Dicky glanced back over his shoulder and saw that Janion was running full bat, evidently doing his very best to catch them. So far he had not shortened the distance, but, on the other hand, he was not losing.

Dicky knew that he and Tom could not go much faster; then he suddenly remembered that he had Miss Morland's bag inside his coat, and the remembrance scared him badly. He spurted, and Janion fell behind a little. But a man can usually run faster than a boy, and presently he began to gain again.

Dicky was looking in every direction for help, but as far as he could see there was not a single person in sight. And now they were getting uncomfortably near the river, that was much too deep and wide to wade and with a current that made swimming risky.

"The wood!" panted Tom, motioning with one hand toward a coppice which lay a bit to their left and upstream. "We might dodge him there!"

Dicky saw it was the only chance, though he was a bit doubtful if they could reach it ahead of their pursuer. He tucked his elbows well in, breathed deeply, and ran for all he was worth.

His heart was thumping hard and his legs began to feel like lead. He and Tom had had a rare doing in the cave on the previous day, and they were feeling the effects of it.

Again he glanced back, and saw Janion coming pounding down the slope. There was a savage, dogged look on the fellow's heavy face, and touch of triumph, too. Quite clearly he believed that he had the boys cornered.

The wood was very near now, and the brambles and tough bracken caught their feet. They were forced to slow up.

"We—must—hide!" gasped Tom, almost at the end of his wind. "I—I can't go much farther."

Dicky knew it, for he was in the same fix himself.

"Know any place?" he panted. "Big trees—close to the river. Climb one!" answered Tom, in a jerky whisper.

Already they could hear Janion's heavy boots crashing through the rough stuff. But they could not see him, for the hazel and brambles were too thick.

Dicky caught a glimpse of water through the trees, and next moment saw a huge beech tree right in front. Its great spreading branches almost touched the ground, and the leaves, though turning yellow, were still thick. Tom dived in under the boughs, and Dicky, at his heels, saw him seize a branch and swing up. He followed, but he was so done that he was a little slow.

He had only reached the second branch, some ten or twelve feet from the ground, when Janion came bursting in.

"No, you don't!" he roared. "Not a second time!"

Dicky cast a horrified glance backward, to see the man climbing rapidly after him.


CHAPTER 42
Over the River

"COME on, Dicky." It was Tom's voice from above, sharp and encouraging.

Dicky, looking up, saw his chum already high among the branches of the big tree. He glanced back at Janion, who was coming up fast behind him. There did not seem any possible hope of getting away; but, on the other hand, if he stopped where he was Janion was bound to catch him within a matter of seconds.

He set to climbing as fast as he could go. His Eton jacket was tight, and hampered him, but all the same he made good time up through the tangled branches, and a very few moments found him alongside Tom.

But there was Janion only ten or a dozen feet below, and coming up steadily.

"We must go higher," said Tom, in a sharp whisper. "If we can get up among the top branches he won't be able to follow us. They won't bear his weight."

For a moment Dicky felt a gleam of hope, but glancing up he saw that a little way above there was a length of bare trunk up which it would be impossible to climb.

"That's no use, Tom." he answered. "We can't reach the top branches at all. Look!"

Tom saw that Dicky was right, and a desperate look came upon his usually stolid face.

"Then we've got to fight him, that's all." As he spoke he whipped out his pocket-knife and set to cutting off a branch.

Janion, realising what he was about, stopped short.

"You dare touch me!" he snarled. Then he grinned evilly. "My time's my own, and I can stay here all night if I've a mind to. And this time there ain't no rabbit burrow as you can crawl down."

As he spoke he seated himself on a thick limb below, put his back against the trunk of the tree, and settled himself down to rest.

The two boys gazed at one another in dismay. Janion was right. This time they were trapped hopelessly, and there was no possibility of escape.

"Come a bit higher," said Tom. "Let's get as far from that pig as we can, anyhow."

Janion scowled, then grinned again.

"Get as high as you like. You won't get away from me this time."

Tom was already climbing higher, and Dicky followed. As he did so he noticed that the branches of the big tree hung far out over the river. He could see the water gleaming beneath them.

He touched Tom.

"Tom," he whispered, "we're right over the river. Couldn't we drop down into the water and swim across? I don't suppose Janion can swim."

Tom looked down. He shook his head slightly.

"No good, old chap," he answered. "Not a bit of good. The water's only four or five feet deep. We should smash ourselves on the bottom if we dropped from this height."

Dicky had to acknowledge that Tom was right, yet he was loth to give up his idea. He sat, frowning, looking first at the water, then at the opposite side of the stream. Tom, watching him, saw a sudden gleam in his eyes.

"I've another notion," he said, in a low, eager tone. "See that tree opposite? The branches lock with this one across the river. If we could get out to the end of that long bough I believe we could swing across."

Tom drew a long breath.

"It's just possible, Dicky; but it's frightfully risky."

"Not half so risky as what we did yesterday, and it's worth any risk to get away from Janion. I'll try it."

"Janion will spot you and come after you."

"If he does he'll come to grief. These branches won't bear his weight."

Tom looked again at the branch Dicky had pointed out.

"All right," he said. "I believe it's worth trying. But remember this, if you miss your hold, try to fall flat into the water. If you go down straight you'll probably get smashed up."

"I'll remember," said Dicky, and started.


CHAPTER 43
How They Tricked Janion

TOM glanced down at Janion, but the man paid no particular attention. It was plain that he had no suspicion of the plan the boys had hatched, and fully believed he had them cornered at last.

Presently they were both seated on the long branch, Tom nearest the trunk, Dicky farther out. Dicky began to creep outward. He edged himself along slowly until the branch began to sag under his weight. Then he was forced to drop and hang by his hands.

"Tom!" he cried sharply. "Help! I've slipped. I'm falling."

"All right. Hang on!" replied Tom. "I'm coming."

But this was only part of their plan for humbugging Janion, who, still quite unconscious of their scheme, sat where he was, chuckling to himself. He did not care twopence whether one boy or both were killed, as long as he recovered the bag that they had taken from him.

Dicky meantime, though continuing to cry out as if in terror, was rapidly working hand over hand along the branch, and Tom followed him at a discreet distance.

Beneath their combined weights the branch sagged and bent; but it was a big, tough limb, and neither had any particular fear of its breaking. What Dicky was afraid of was that it might bend too far, letting him down too low for him to be able to grasp the opposite limb on which his eyes were fixed.

From where he was he could not see Janion at all. The leaves were so thick they quite hid him, so he hoped, and not without good reason, that Janion was equally unable to see him.

Down drooped the branch—down—down till Dicky was dangling in mid air, nearly twenty feet above the middle of the river.

Glancing down through the clear water he could plainly see the big stones lying at the bottom of the river, and it made him shiver to think what would happen if he missed his hold.

But it was too late to think of going back again, and in any case he had no notion of doing that.

He was now level with the opposite branch, the one toward which he had been working. Indeed its extreme end brushed his face. It looked perilously thin, and for a moment his heart almost failed him. Then he set his teeth.

"Hang on tight. Tom!" he said sharply, and then he swung.

He got a firm hold of the opposite branch, but for an instant he had a horrible sensation of falling. This ceased, and then there came a jerk that nearly wrenched his arms from their sockets, and up he swung again, level with Tom.

At this moment there was a roar from Janion. The man had at last seen how he was being fooled, and he was coming up at full speed.

"Go on quickly!" cried Tom. "Quick, Dicky! That branch won't stand two of us."

Breathlessly Dicky worked along his branch, and to his intense relief found another under his feet, which enabled him to take the weight off his arms. He got on a little farther, and was able to let go the upper branch, and perch himself firmly on the lower. There he stopped and turned to watch Tom.

There was Tom well on toward the end of the beech branch, but to Dicky's horror Janion had reached the trunk end of the same branch.

"Hurry, Tom!" he cried, but Tom, always steady as a rock, refused to get flustered, and worked out as calmly as if he were swinging on the bridge ladder in the gymnasium, with a fat mattress beneath him in case he fell.

In spite of the intense excitement of the moment, Dicky felt a little thrill of delight at the sight of his chum's pluck.

Janion got his leg over the branch, and began to hoist himself out, but he came slowly and clumsily. Tom had stopped and was swinging in mid-air waiting for his chance to grasp the opposite bough.

Dicky, unable to help him, could only cling where he was, with his heart in his mouth, and watch.

His suspense did not last long, for next instant Tom seized his chance, and with one big swing grabbed the opposite branch. Down he swung, and at the same time up swung the branch he had just released.

From the tree opposite came a shriek of terror. The sudden jerk had upset Janion's balance, and there he was clinging upside down exactly like a huge, ugly gorilla.

By that time Dicky had hold of Tom, and the two were in safety.

Tom looked back at Janion and a slow smile curled his lips.

"Pity he wasn't chucked off altogether," he remarked.

"I'm afraid he's more frightened than hurt," replied Dicky.

Tom nodded.

"Yes, and now he'll be crosser than ever. Come along down, Dicky. We haven't finished with the beggar yet."


CHAPTER 44
Out of the Frying-pan

TOM was right. Janion was out of his tree almost as soon as they were out of theirs. Blind with rage, the man actually plunged into the river and started to wade across.

The boys did not wait to watch him. Turning, they set to running along the bank as hard as they could.

"It's all right," said Tom as he raced beside Dicky. "We needn't kill ourselves. It'll take Janion quite a while to wade across, and even when he's out on our side, his clothes will be all wet, and he won't be able to run. If we jog steadily we can easily keep ahead, and once we reach the road by Conover Bridge there'll be people about, and he won't dare to touch us."

Dicky slacked off a bit.

"I was an ass to bring that bag out," he said, "if he'd caught us, he'd have had it."

"Yes, you were a bit of a juggins. What did you do it for?"

"Thought I'd hide it somewhere. Don't much like keeping it in the school."

Before Tom could speak again Janion's hoarse voice rang out behind them. "Hi! Hi! Stop them, Mr. Calvert! Don't let 'em get away. They've got the bag."

Instinctively the two stopped short, and as they did so there came Calvert charging down the hill from above them.

Stocky and bull-necked he was a formidable figure, and Dicky shivered with apprehension at sight of him.

"Come on!" hissed Tom in his ear. "Run for all you're worth, Dicky. It's our only chance."

A slim one, and Dicky knew it, but he responded nobly, and in single file the pair tore along the narrow fisherman's path which led beside the river.

Calvert, who was perhaps a hundred yards above them, up the hill side, altered his course, so as to cut them off.

"He shan't have the bag!" snapped Dicky; but Tom said nothing, only ran the faster.

It was no use. They were both tired and stiff, and Calvert was quite fresh. Besides he had the great advantage of running down hill. In a very few moments he had reached the path, and was between them and the still distant road.

He pulled up, facing them, and both saw the sneering look of triumph on his heavy face.

Tom clenched his fists.

"Let's go for him, Dicky," he said.

"Right!" panted Dicky, advancing boldly.

"You try it!" snapped Calvert. "If you do I'll put you both in the river. I mean it!"

"All right," replied Dicky recklessly. "And you'll jolly well go with us."

Calvert eyed them malevolently.

"You young idiots, I could smash you both with one hand, and I've a jolly good mind to; but I'll let you off on one condition. Give up that bag and promise to keep your mouths shut, and I won't lick you."

"Give you the bag! You're the last chap in the world I'd give it to. I'll chuck it in the river before you get it."

As Dicky spoke, he stepped over toward the bank, and, pulling the bag out from under his coat, held it out over the deep water.

Calvert paused a moment. He was fairly grinding his teeth with rage. Dearly as he would have loved to rush Dicky, he did not dare to, for he saw that the boy meant what he said, and that if too far pressed Dicky would certainly throw the bag into the water.

Now Calvert had his own reasons for wanting the bag. He must have wanted it pretty badly, or he would not have been willing to pay Janion several pounds for it. If Dicky threw it into the river there was an end of it, for it would sink and never be seen again.

So Calvert stood still, his heavy face working, glaring fiercely at Dicky, yet uncertain what to do.

Suddenly a queer gleam came into his deep-set eyes. He had seen something that Dicky and Tom had not seen—that Janion had managed to cross the river and was coming up behind at a steady jog.


CHAPTER 45
Calvert Clears Out

DICKY saw the queer expression on Calvert's face, and knew that something was up. Glancing quickly back over his shoulder, he spotted Janion coming.

"It's Janion!" he said to Tom, in a sharp whisper.

Tom's square young face hardened.

"Go for him!" he snapped out, and flung himself at Calvert.

Calvert, who had never for a moment believed that the two kids, as he scornfully called them, would dare to attack him, was taken by surprise. All the same, he let out savagely at Tom, and, though Tom dodged, Calvert's great fist landed on his right shoulder with a force that spun him round.

Next instant Dicky had hurled himself into the fray. Hitting with all his might he caught Calvert on the cheek. If Dicky had been able to put up a bit more weight behind that blow it would have knocked Calvert down. As it was, it actually staggered the big bully.

It had another and less fortunate result, for the pain of it roused all the fellow's ugly, savage temper and turned him into a raging lunatic.

In a moment Dicky was flat on his back, with his head spinning like a top, and hardly knowing where he was or what had happened.

"Give me that bag!" roared Calvert, and flinging himself on Dicky caught him by the throat and shook him.

Tom, recovering himself, seized Calvert from behind, and tried to drag him off.

"Let go, you brute!" he cried. "Let go! You're strangling him."

But Tom had neither the strength nor the weight sufficient for the purpose, and Calvert paid no more attention to him than a dog would pay to a fly.

What would have happened no one can say, but Dicky would certainly have been badly damaged, when all of a sudden there was a sound of running steps and panting breath.

"Look out! It's that there Last!" came in a frightened yell from Janion.

Even if Calvert heard the warning it was too late, for already Joe Last was on him. Before Calvert realised what was happening Joe hit him on the jaw. It was a clean, hard smack, making a sound like the bursting of a paper bag, and delivered with such force that it knocked Calvert clean off Dicky and sent him spinning to the very edge of the river. There he lay on his back clucking like a hen and completely helpless.

Joe's face was white as a sheet, but his blue eyes fairly blazed. He saw Janion, and without a word went straight for him. Janion, having seen Calvert's fate, had no wish to meet Joe. He turned tail and ran for dear life.

Joe wasted no time hunting him, but strode back to the scene of the fight. Calvert lay where he had fallen, but Tom had already picked up Dicky. Calvert's fist had got Dicky high up on the forehead, and though his head rang like a bell he was really very little the worse.

"What does this mean?" demanded Joe. "Why were these brutes tackling you?"

Tom, who as usual had kept his head, glanced quickly at Calvert.

Joe understood. He stirred the prostrate bully contemptuously with his toe.

"Get up, you fat coward. Get up and clear out."

Calvert merely goggled at him.

Joe stepped down to the river. He took off his hat, filled it with water, and dashed it full in Calvert's face. The water was icy cold, and the cure was instant. Calvert sat up, spluttering and choking.

"Get up!" ordered Last again, and there was a tone in his voice that Calvert dared not disobey. He staggered to his feet and stood glaring at Joe. His lips moved as if he were trying to speak, but no words came.

Joe took one step forward.

"Get!" he said.

It was enough. Calvert swung round and hurried off.


CHAPTER 46
Back to the Caves

JOE watched him go.

"I wish I'd put him in the river," he said regretfully. Then he turned to Dicky.

"Now, what's it all about?" he asked sharply.

Dicky looked at Tom. Tom nodded, and Dicky took it to mean that Tom agreed that Last had better know the whole business. So, beginning with their start from the school on the previous morning, he gave a rapid sketch of the whole business—how they had tracked Janion to the swallet hole, how they had got the bag from him, and how they had escaped from the cave.

Joe's face was a study as he listened. More than once he seemed on the point of interrupting, but he did not do so. It was not until Dicky had finished that he spoke.

"So you've got the bag?" he asked, and there was a queer note in his voice which puzzled Dicky.

Dicky held it out. Last's face was oddly white, but he did not offer to take it.

"Was there anything in it?" he asked in a low, strained voice.

"No," answered Dicky. "It was empty."

"Then where are the deeds?"

"That's just what Tom and I want to know," said Dicky. "If we could only find them and give them back to Miss Morland, there'd be an end of all this bother, and I could see Cicely again, and Tom could see Fay."

Joe Last was silent. There was a frown on his face and he was evidently thinking hard. All of a sudden he woke up.

"Which way did Janion go?" he questioned sharply, at the same time swinging round and looking back, up the river. Dicky and Tom looked, too, but Janion seemed to have disappeared.

Then Dicky flung up his arm and pointed.

"There he is! He's crossed the river again. See, he's half-way up the hill on the far side."

"He's going back to the caves," said Joe. "Come on, you two!" he cried. "We've got to get there before him. It's our one chance."

He caught the look of amazement on Dicky's face.

"Don't you understand?" he said sharply. "He's gone back to his cave to get the deeds and hide them somewhere else. He knows they're not safe there now that you two are free."

Dicky gasped.

"And we never thought of that! Tom, we are a couple of idiots. What shall we do, Last?"

"Do! Worry Janion for all we're worth. If we can only get to this cave of his ahead of him the chances are that we can find the deeds."

Dicky was all excitement.

"Right! Come on, then!" he cried.

Joe looked at him and Tom sharply.

"You and Burland have had a pretty rough passage. Hadn't you better get back to the school and leave this job to me?"

"No!" they cried both together; and Joe said no more. He merely nodded, and started off.

The pace he set was a terribly stiff one, and Dicky and Tom had their work cut out to keep up. But they did not protest, for both saw that Janion had got a very long start, and they had not only to catch him up but pass him, so as to reach the cave ahead of him.

Janion had crossed the Merle by a ford two or three hundred yards above the wood. It was a broad shallow, where the water was only a few inches deep. The three splashed through it, but when they gained the far bank Janion was out of sight among thick undergrowth higher up the hill.

"We've got to get round him," said Joe, and set to running along the bank of the river. Dicky and Tom did their best, but their legs were not so long as Joe's and they were still stiff from the terrible climb through the caves on the previous day. Gradually they dropped behind.

Joe paused a moment and looked back.

"All right, kids," he said. "Don't kill yourselves. Take your time. I must go ahead if I don't want to lose my chance."

"I simply hate letting him go on alone!", panted Dicky. "You don't know what horrid trick Janion may play on him."

Tom slacked down to a jog-trot.

"Can't be helped," he said soberly. "We can't possibly keep up with Joe, and it's no use killing ourselves. After all, he's just as likely to find the deeds as we are."

"I don't know about that," replied Dicky, in a troubled voice. "It's not easy to find the mouth of that cave."

"You've explained that to him all right," said Tom.

"But even if he does find it Janion may come in on top of him," objected Dicky. "And—I don't know whether Joe has any light."

"Yes, he has. He always carries a torch. I saw it sticking out of his pocket," replied Tom. "Don't talk, or you won't have wind left for the rest of the run."

Dicky said no more, but all the same there was a very anxious expression on his small face as he and Tom trotted steadily onward.


CHAPTER 47
Janion's Defiance

AT last the cliffs were in sight, rising in rugged grandeur against the sky. Dicky anxiously searched the grassy slope leading up to them, but there was not a soul in sight.

"Where are they?" he asked Tom.

"Joe's there by now, I expect," Tom answered; "but we ought to see Janion."

"There isn't a sign of him," said Dicky in a puzzled voice.

"Perhaps he's gone up that gully," suggested Tom. "That's the way we'd best try."

Dicky agreed, and moving cautiously across the lower part of the grass slope they reached the gully and walked quickly up it.

Still no sign either of Last or Janion.

The gully was so deep that they could not get a sight of the way up the cliff till they were quite near the bottom of it. Then Dicky, who was ahead, drew a quick breath.

"There's Janion," he whispered. "Look! Half-way up!"

Tom took it quite coolly.

"Then I'm pretty sure Joe's in the cave already," he said.

"What are we going to do?" asked Dicky.

"Climb up after Janion. Only leave the bag down here, Dicky. Best be on the safe side."

Dicky nodded and thrust the bag into a hollow under a big rock, then waited, with his eyes on Janion. The man was going up the same way as on the day before, but it was not safe to follow till he had passed the half-way ridge.

"Suppose he comes right in on top of Joe?" Dicky said uncomfortably.

"Don't worry about that. Joe will be looking out for him," replied Tom. "There! He's out of sight. Come on!"

They knew the way now, and it was easier than it had been yesterday, but when they got to the ledge Janion was already out of sight.

They had just reached the narrow slit which was the mouth of the cave when, from somewhere inside, came a thudding sound and a yell.

"Oh, Janion's found Joe!" cried Dicky, and, dashing past Tom, flung himself into the opening.

"Joe's got Janion, more likely," muttered Tom, as he hurried after.

Round the curve where the passage led into the cave Dicky could see a gleam of light on the rugged rock walls, and, reckless of danger, dashed round the corner. The first thing he saw was an electric torch lying on a rock on the right-hand side of the mouth of the cave, the next two figures struggling furiously on the floor, rolling over one another, first one on top, then the other. He could hear the thud of their boot heels on the rock, and their panting breath.

For the moment Joe Last was on top, his long, lean figure twisted in a desperate effort to keep the other down. But Joe, active and wiry as he was, was only a boy, and Janion was a grown man, and a good three stone heavier. Next instant he had got Joe by the throat and literally torn him loose from his hold. Joe rolled over sideways; and Janion, with a harsh cry of triumph, was in the act of springing to his feet, when Dicky and Tom together, both hurled themselves upon him.

They took him completely by surprise, and their combined weight bowled him right over, and sent him flat on his face with a force that half stunned him. Before he could rise again Joe was up. In a flash he was on Janion again.

"Hold him!" he panted, and whipping out a length of cord pulled Janion's wrists together, and tied them behind him.

"And that's all right," he said grimly.

"Have—have you got the deeds?" asked Dicky breathlessly.

"Not yet," replied Joe, "but I've got Janion, which is as good."

Janion writhed round and rolled over. His heavy face was purple, and the veins stood out like cords on his forehead.

"You think so!" he snarled. "But it ain't so, Mr. Joe Last. You can search for a month of Sundays, but you won't never find anything."


CHAPTER 48
Playing the Game

JOE stared down at his prisoner, and Dicky didn't half-like the look on his face. But his tone was quiet enough as he answered:

"I'm not going to search, Janion. You're going to tell me."

"Oh, am I?" returned Janion, with a bitter sneer. "And what'll happen if I don't?"

Joe Last's face set like stone.

"Then I shall fetch the police," he answered.

Janion laughed; and Dicky thought he had never heard a more unpleasant sound. "You daren't," he returned—"you daren't do it, and you know it."

The flush of exertion faded from Joe's face, leaving it very white. He stood quite still and silent.

Janion chuckled again.

"Police!" he jeered. "It's you they'd have before me. Suppose I tells the kids what you've done?"

Dicky was fairly shivering with excitement. For days he had been aching to know what part Last had played in this strange business. What it was neither he nor Tom had been able even to guess at, for both felt certain that Janion was the thief; they could not even dream that Joe had had any share in it.

Yet, in spite of his tingling anxiety to know the truth, Dicky knew that he must play the game. He caught Tom by the arm.

"Come away!" he whispered in his ear. "We mustn't listen. We've got to leave them to have it out between them."

Tom merely nodded, and he and Dicky hurried away round the corner, through the narrow passage, and so out into the open. Behind them they could hear voices rising and falling, Janion's sometimes rising into a hoarse shout. But what was being said they could not hear at all.

"We had to clear out," said Dicky, with a sort of groan.

"Of course we had," growled Tom, and neither spoke again till steps were heard and Last came out into the open. Heavy clouds had come up, and in the dull light his face seemed even whiter than before. He looked at the two boys.

"It was decent of you to clear out," he said abruptly, then fell silent.

Dicky waited a while, then his impatience grew too strong.

"Did you get the deeds, Last?" he demanded.

"No," replied the other bitterly. "Of course they are there somewhere, but it would take a month to search the place. And now I've no more time. If we don't start back we shall be late for tea, and I can't risk that." He looked at the sky. "It's going to rain, too," he added harshly.

He stepped out of the cave mouth.

"But Janion," put in Dicky—"what about Janion?"

"I shall leave him there," snapped Joe.

"B-but he'll starve," gasped Dicky.

"Not in a day. I shall come for him tomorrow," said Joe, with a grim smile. "A night in the cave may teach him some sense."

Dicky was horrified. Much as he disliked Janion, the idea of leaving him alone in the cave all night, tied fast and without food or water, was a bit too much.

"It's not the game, Last," he said boldly.

"The game!" repeated Joe fiercely. "And is it the game for the beggar to try to force money out of a woman?"

"No," admitted Dicky; "it isn't. But that's no reason why we should do a rotten thing."

A red patch glowed on each of Joe's white cheeks, his lips tightened, and his eyes became hard and glassy. Dicky didn't at all like his looks.

"You shut your mouth, Dent," he said violently. "This is my business, not yours. You and Burland clear out at once."

Dicky looked at Tom, and Tom gave an almost imperceptible wink. Dicky understood.

"All right," he said quietly, and started to climb down the cliff. Joe remained where he was.

The moment they were out of sight of Joe, Dicky waited for Tom.

"You mean we must go back and turn Janion loose?" he whispered.

"That's the only thing to do," replied Tom, in an equally low tone. "If you ask me, Last is nearly crazy."

"Quite, I should think," said Dicky drily. "I say, Tom, it's going to be a precious awkward job this. In the first place, if we go back to the cave we shall be late for tea, and, in the second, it won't be any fun turning Janion loose."


CHAPTER 49

The Storm

TOM merely nodded, and the two scrambled slowly downwards—slowly, because they were both hoping greatly that Joe would follow and overtake them.

But they were nearly at the bottom before they saw him coming down. At the same moment a gust of cold wind came rushing across the open ground, bringing with it heavy drops of rain.

"We're in for a nice ducking," grumbled Tom; but Dicky, watching Joe, hardly noticed the change in the weather.

Joe came down quickly, and in a very few moments was beside them. He looked hard at Dicky.

"Oh, no!" he said grimly. "You needn't think you're going to dodge back up there and let Janion loose. You come along with me. Step out now. We haven't too much time."

Again Dicky glanced at Tom, but Tom merely shrugged his shoulders. He knew, and for that matter so did Dicky, that there was not a ghost of a chance of their getting back to the cave as long as Joe was with them.

With sinking heart Dicky ventured a last protest.

"Last, it isn't right," he said. "Do let me turn the fellow loose."

Joe swung round upon him with such fury that Dicky quailed.

"You say another word about it, and I'll give you a regular hammering," he snapped. "Get on back to the school."

Dicky obeyed. He had no choice, but it was with a very sore heart that he trudged on silently through the now pouring rain. What hurt him so badly was that Joe Last should behave in such a fashion—Joe, to whom he had always looked up as the finest fellow in the school.

None of the three had with him his overcoat, and in the first half-mile all were drenched to the skin. It was blowing, too. The gale was roaring up the valley out of the distant sea, and getting stronger every minute. It was bitterly cold, and the wind seemed to cut right through Dicky's sopping garments. Yet he hardly noticed it, for his whole mind was set on the puzzle of what he was to do when he reached the school.

Clearly it was useless to appeal to Last, yet to Dicky it was equally impossible to leave Janion in the cave all night and most of the next day. Tied up as he was Janion must be perfectly helpless, and was already probably suffering tortures from cramp. Brute as the man was such a punishment was unthinkable.

But if Joe would not consent to Janion's release Dicky was quite unable to see how it could be managed. Gates were locked at half-past six, and after that there was no way of getting out of the school. There was no one he could send to turn the man loose, and, even if there had been, he would not know the way up to the cave.

As for going to Dr. Fair, that, of course, was not to be thought of.

Dicky glanced at Tom, but there was no chance of discussing the matter with him, for Joe, with set face, stalked along between them.

And so the three plodded silently through the driving storm, while the great gusts thundered across the hillside, drenching them with icy rain, and sometimes coming with such fury that they could hardly make headway at all.

The enormous mass of cloud that covered the sky soon reduced the remaining daylight to a grey gloom, and as Last was leading the way right across country the going became worse and worse. They slipped and stuck in the deep mud, and in the hollows were over their ankles in water.

At last they came to One Mile Hill, a very steep slope just a mile from Maplestone. Its summit was crowned by a coppice of tall firs and beeches, which swayed and roared in the thundering gale. They were passing through these when they heard a crack like a gun-shot sounding sharp above the deeper note of the storm.

"Look out!" shouted Tom, and catching hold of Dicky fairly flung him back.

Next moment a great branch, torn from near the top of one of the trees by the wind, came smashing down. Its twigs whipped Dicky's face as he staggered back.

"Joe!" he screamed.

It was too late. Joe Last lay under the great bough flat on the sopping grass.


CHAPTER 50
A Friend in Need

FOR a moment Tom and Dicky stood in horrified amazement, then, without a word, flung themselves on the branch and between them managed to drag it aside.

"Is—is he dead?" asked Dicky hoarsely, as Tom dropped on his knees beside Joe.

Joe looked ghastly, for blood was oozing from a nasty cut over his left eye and staining all his face.

"No—no, he's not dead," Tom answered, as he fished out a handkerchief and tried to stanch the blood. "He's stunned, I think. Here, let me have your handkerchief. We've got to tie up this cut."

Dicky pulled it out clumsily and handed it over. He was beginning to recover from the first shock.

"Tom," he said, "we can't leave him here. Another branch might fall. Let's carry him to that wall."

They did so, and laid him so that the wall broke the force of the wind. By this time it was almost dark.

"We've got to get help," said Tom, in his quiet way. "Dicky, you'll have to cut down into the village and get a car and two men. Mind you get two men, for it's a good way down to the road. I'll stay and look after him."

Dicky did not wait. He was off like a flash. Regardless of risk he raced down the hillside, making straight for the road. Just as he reached it he saw the lights of a car, a small car that came thumping slowly up the steep slope.

"What luck!" he gasped, and sprang out to meet it.

As he stood in the middle of the road, waving his arms frantically, the headlights showed him clearly, and the driver pulled up.

"An accident," panted Dicky, rushing up. "A branch fell on a chap. He's up the hill. Please can you help?"

A head was poked out from under the streaming hood.

"Hullo!" came a voice which seemed oddly familiar. "Why—why it's Dick Dent, isn't it?"

"You, sir? Oh, what luck!" cried Dicky, as he recognised Professor Perrin, and breathlessly he told the story of Joe Last's accident.

"Jump in," said the Professor, curtly. "I'll drive you back to the village. We must get another man—two if we can."

Dicky knew by experience that the Professor could drive, but the pace at which they raced back into Maplestone was almost terrifying. The Professor pulled up at Bond's Garage, and leaped out. In almost no time he had two men. He also had a big coat, which he made Dicky put on.

"I've sent word to the school," he said briefly, "and the man will also bring a doctor. As for you, you'd better go back to the school, and change."

"No, please. Professor," begged Dicky. "There's something else wrong. Only I haven't time to tell you now."

Professor Perrin gave the boy a quick, keen glance.

"Very well! Only I don't want extra weight in the car. You stay here. They've got a fire. Dry yourself while you wait."

He was gone, and Dicky was left to sit by the fire. Mrs. Bond brought him a cup of excellent tea, which made him feel better, but he was desperately anxious and troubled. The minutes dragged by, and Dicky thought the time had never passed more slowly.

But in reality it was less than half an hour before the car came back down the hill and stopped outside.

Dicky hurried out, and Tom met him.

"How's Last?" asked Dicky quickly.

"He's still insensible, but the Professor doesn't think that he is badly hurt," replied Tom. "They are carrying him up to the school on the stretcher."

"Last will be all right, I think." It was Professor Perrin who spoke. "He has slight concussion, but nothing worse, as far as I can make out." He paused. "And now what is your trouble?" he asked, and though his voice was a little stern there was a kindly twinkle in his keen eyes.

Dicky looked questioningly at Tom. For a moment there was a puzzled expression on Tom's face, but it passed, and Dicky saw that he understood.

"Yes," he said. "Tell him."

Even then Dicky hesitated. It seemed so dreadfully like sneaking. The Professor seemed to realise the boy's thoughts.

"Don't be afraid, Dent," he said.

"Whatever it is, I shan't give you away."

Dicky drew a long breath, and plunged straight into an account of the afternoon's doings.


CHAPTER 51
The Professor's Plan

DICKY told how Janion had hunted them, how they had followed him to the cave, caught and tied him, and finally of Last's decision to leave him there. The only thing Dicky did not mention was the bag, which he still had safe under his soaked coat.

Professor Perrin listened in silence till Dicky had finished.

"So the man is still there and you want me to release him for you?" he questioned.

"No, not you, sir," replied Dicky quickly; "but I thought you might give me a lift in the car and I could go and do it."

A curious smile twisted the Professor's lips.

"And what do you think that Janion would do when you had turned him loose?" he asked drily.

"I should bargain with him first, sir," responded Dicky.

The Professor chuckled.

"And how long would a fellow like that keep his promise, do you think?"

"Well, he wouldn't be fit to do much, sir," persisted Dicky. "He'd be too stiff."

"H'm! I don't know so much about that. This man, so far as I understand, is undoubtedly the individual who stole Miss Morland's bag, with the deeds for which she is offering a reward. It seems to me that the best thing I can do is to go and find Sergeant Croome and take him with me to this cave. The evidence of you boys should be sufficient for the case against Janion."

A look of utter dismay crossed Dicky's face.

"No, sir—no! Please don't do that," he begged.

"Why not?" demanded the Professor in a distinctly puzzled tone.

Dicky was silent. He did not know what to say.

Tom cut in, speaking in his usual sober, matter-of-fact way.

"We'd rather you didn't do that, sir. I don't think we can quite explain, but if you did go to the police you might get someone else into trouble besides Janion."

The Professor nodded.

"Someone who is a friend of yours?" he suggested.

"That's it, sir," Tom answered.

"It's an odd business," said Professor Perrin, with a slight shrug of his shoulders. "I confess I can't understand it. Still, I know you boys well enough to be sure that you really mean what you say. Do you think that I can find this cave?"

"Not by yourself, sir," replied Dicky.

"But I can't take you boys back with me in your present condition. You are both soaked to the skin and will catch the most fearful colds. Besides, what would your master say? He will be expecting you back at the same time as Last."

It was a poser, and Dicky and Tom looked at one another in a sort of despair. It was perfectly true, and for a moment they could see no way out.

The Professor was the first to speak.

"I have a plan," he said. "How does this strike you? I will drive you both back to the school, then I will ask Dr. Fair to let you, Dent, come back with me as soon as you have changed. I shall tell him that you saw this man Janion enter a cave and that you have good reason to think that he has hidden the missing deeds there."

"But the Doctor will want to send for the police, as you did, sir."

"I think I can square him over that," answered the Professor.

"At any rate, it is the only plan that occurs to me."

"Then let's try, sir," said Dicky.

"And thank you very much."


CHAPTER 52
A Brush with the Bullies

TO Dicky's surprise, Dr. Fair made no objection at all. The fact was that he was so upset by Joe Last's accident that he hardly gave a second thought to Professor Perrin's request. For Last was more hurt than had at first been supposed; and Dr. Preece, who had been called from the village, was looking grave. He said that there was severe concussion, but that he could not yet tell how severe.

Meantime, Joe, who was still insensible, had been put to bed in a room in the school hospital and was being kept absolutely quiet.

Dicky had rushed off to his dormitory and was changing as rapidly as possible when, to his dismay, Calvert's two allies, Doran and Gilkes, came in.

"What have you been doing, you young scug?" demanded Doran.

Dicky didn't want a row.

"Been for a walk and got wet," he answered quietly enough.

"Were you with Last when he was hurt?" questioned Gilkes.

"Yes," replied Dicky, who was aching to get away.

"How did he get hurt?" questioned Gilkes. "What happened?"

"A branch of a tree blew down upon him and hit his head." said Dicky, edging toward the door.

Doran laughed brutally.

"Teach the stuck-up ass a lesson," he chuckled.

Dicky went red as fire.

"And give you a chance to bully the kids without anyone to stop you," he retorted unwisely.

"You cheeky young beggar!" roared Gilkes, making a rush at him.

Dicky dodged cleverly, and Gilkes went bang into the bedstead and clean over it.

"Stop him, Doran!" he yelled. But Dicky had already reached the door and, skating out, slammed it in Doran's face, and went racing down the stairs two at a time. He was nearly at the bottom when he saw someone just starting up. It was Calvert—Calvert dripping with rain, and in his ugliest temper.

"Hi, stop him!" came Doran's voice from the top of the stairs. "Catch the young beggar, Calvert!"

At the shout Calvert looked up.

"What luck!" he said, and grabbed at Dicky.

But Dicky was quite desperate, and instead of trying to dodge Calvert he charged him, head down.

Naturally, this was the very last thing that Calvert had expected, and he had not even time to brace himself against the onslaught before Dicky's head met the third button of his waistcoat and knocked him clean off his balance.

Down he went, and down went Dicky on top of him. It was lucky for them both that they were only three steps from the bottom, for if there had been more the chances are that the bully would have been really damaged. As it was his head met the boards with a bump that left him limp as a sack of coal; and Dicky, whose fall had been broken by the body of his assailant, scrambled hastily to his feet and made off.

The Professor was waiting for him, and in a few minutes the car had left the school.

The storm was beginning to die down. The wind was not nearly so strong, and though the rain still fell steadily it was not so heavy.

"Going to be a bit awkward climbing the cliffs in this light," remarked the Professor.

Dicky started. As a matter of fact, he had not been thinking of Janion, but of Calvert. Calvert had suffered a good deal already, but chiefly at Last's hands. Today, twice since dinner, he had got the worst of it from Dicky and Tom, and now Last was in hospital and not able to help them.

"Yes, sir," replied Dicky, "but luckily I know the way pretty well, and if we may take one of the car lamps we shall be all right."

"Yes, we will do that. In any case I am anxious to get a sight of this upper cave. As I told Dr. Fair, I mean to borrow you two boys for a whole day so that you may show me the way into Cripp's Cavern. You'll like that, won't you?"

"Yes, sir. Thank you," replied Dicky, but with a lack of enthusiasm which struck the Professor strongly.

Professor Perrin was not merely a brilliant scientist; he was also a man of good sound common sense, and already he had come to realise that there was more behind all this business than he yet understood.

Of course, he knew all about the theft of Miss Morland's bag and the deeds; knew, too, that Janion had been suspected of the theft. Now he himself had begun to suspect that Dicky Dent and Tom Burland knew more about it than they had yet told him, and that they were trying to shield some boy in the school who had got mixed up in the business.

"So you think that these papers of Miss Morland's may be in the cave, Dent?" he asked presently.

"Yes, sir. What else would take Janion to a place like that?"

"Not the study of geology, at any rate," replied the Professor, smiling. "Well, I hope we shall be able to find them."

Dicky shook his head.

"I don't think there's much chance, sir. It's a whacking great cave, and if you had a dozen men searching all day they might not be able to find the hiding-place."

"Don't you think we might persuade this fellow Janion to own up?" suggested the Professor slyly. "If we told him for instance, that his liberty depended on his giving up the papers, he might confess."

Dicky looked up at his questioner. "Last has tried that already, sir, and Janion would not say a word. You see, the worst of it is that we haven't any real proof that Janion stole the papers. No one saw him do it."


CHAPTER 53
Dicky's Dilemma

THEY had just come to One Mile Hill, and the Professor was changing gear to climb it. He did not speak again till they reached the top.

"And what has Last got to do with it?" he asked suddenly.

Dicky felt himself going hot all over.

"I—I don't know, sir," he stammered. "That is—he—he has been helping us."

"Forgive me, Dent," said the Professor quietly. "I did not mean to ask awkward questions."

"Not a bit, sir," said Dicky eagerly. "I'll tell you all I can, but there's something funny about it—something that Tom and I can't understand a bit."

"Quite so. Then don't bother. I feel sure, when you do get the mystery clear you will tell me. Until then I will not ask questions."

"Thank you, sir," said Dicky, with great earnestness.

They drove on in silence, but Dicky was more uneasy than ever. What was worrying him now was the thought of what Janion might say. Janion, Dicky suspected, knew something against Last, though what he could not tell. Supposing the man blurted out some accusation before Professor Perrin? Then perhaps the Professor would feel it his duty to tell Dr. Fair.

Then the fat would be in the fire, and no one could tell what the upshot would be. At all costs Dicky wanted to protect Joe. He bore him no grudge for his roughness during the evening, for he knew that worry had thrown Joe quite off his balance.

He began to wonder if it would be possible to get to the cave ahead of the Professor and bribe Janion to keep his mouth shut. He still had the five-pound note that the Professor had given him. And while he was still turning this problem over in his mind the Professor pulled up.

"Here we are," he said. "This is about the nearest point to your cave. I can leave the car here by the roadside, and we must walk the rest of the way."

The rain had stopped and the wind died down, but it was still very dark as the two made their way across the grassy slope by the light of one of the motor lamps. This the Professor carried; and Dicky saw at once that his plan of getting first to the cave was utterly out of the question. Even with the lamp it was not going to be easy to climb the cliff. Without it the job would be impossible.

All the way to the foot of the cliff Dicky was racking his brain for some way out of the difficulty.

The Professor noticed Dicky's silence, but did not make any remark upon it. At last they came to the spot by the little ravine where they had to start the real climb. The cliff face was slippery with rain, and water was dribbling down it from above. Alone, Dicky could never have done it.

But the Professor was tough as wire, and amazingly strong into the bargain. And with his help and the strong light of the acetylene lamp the two went steadily up.

They gained the entrance, and Dicky pointed to a narrow cleft.

"Not much room," said the Professor, "and the opening is quite hidden by the projecting rock. It's a wonder how Janion ever found the place. You go first, Dent, and show me the way."

Dicky went slowly in. His spirits were very low, for he saw that now there was no way of preventing an interview between Janion and the Professor. As he crept through the passage he shivered to think what the man might say.

Professor Perrin followed, his lamp flinging Dick's shadow black as ink on the floor of the passage.

Dicky came to the sharp curve and rounded it. For an instant he was in pitch darkness, then, as the Professor came after him, the inner cave was illuminated by the powerful white light which gleamed on the stalactites hanging from the roof.

But Dicky was not looking at these. He had stopped short, and was staring, open-eyed, at the floor.

"He—he's gone!" he gasped. "Janion has gone!"


CHAPTER 54
A Game of Bluff

"JANION gone?" repeated the Professor in a tone of extreme surprise.

"Yes, sir," replied Dicky. "This is where we left him"—pointing to the spot. "This is the exact place."

"You could not have tied him properly," declared Professor Perrin.

"We did, sir. Indeed we did. Why, Last—" Dicky pulled up short, but the Professor, if he heard Last's name, did not appear to notice. "I am quite sure he couldn't have got away by himself," vowed Dicky.

"But who could have released him?" questioned the Professor. "In the storm, too!"

Dicky was down on his knees, examining the spot where Janion had been left. He picked up something and held it up.

"I don't know who it was, sir; but here's a bit of the cord he was tied with, and it's cut with a knife."

The Professor took the piece of cord. "Yes," he said slowly. "That has been cut with a knife. The only thing I can suppose is that some accomplice of the man was watching you, and, as soon as you had gone, he climbed up here and released Janion."

"It must be that, sir," replied Dicky, who still had his eyes on the ground. He waited till the Professor had turned away, then quick as a flash, stooped again and picked up a small object, which he slipped into his pocket.

"Well," said Professor Perrin a moment later, "the man is gone, and we can do nothing more tonight. If the deeds were here, of course, he has taken them with him."

"I suppose he has, sir," answered Dicky, rather downcast. "Then we'd better go home, sir."

"Just a minute," said the Professor. "As we are here you might as well show me the way out of the cave at the back. I am coming up here to explore thoroughly at the first opportunity."

"I can soon do that, sir," replied Dicky, and led the way to the back of the cave.

The Professor crawled as far into the crack as he could push himself, and came out hot and dusty, but smiling.

"Upon my word. I don't know how you boys got through," he said. "I shall have to use the pick before I can work past that place. At any rate, I know my way now, so I think we won't delay any longer."

He led the way out of the cave, and they scrambled slowly down the cliff face to safety. Half an hour later he dropped Dicky at the school.

"Good-bye, my boy," he said as he shook hands. "And will you remember that if you are in any further trouble over this business you can always come to me? Be sure I will do my best for you."

Dicky thanked him warmly and hurried up to his dormitory. He had just remembered that he had left Miss Morland's bag in the locker by his bed. He had thrust it there in his hurry while changing his wet clothes, and it occurred to him that it was not a very safe place in which to leave it.

The dormitory was still empty when he reached it, for the boys had not yet come up from their classrooms. He ran to the locker, flung it open, and ran his hand down under the clothes. The bag was safe, and Dicky gasped with relief.

He had hardly closed the locker again before there was a pounding of boots on the stairs and the other fellows came charging up.

Tom Burland was the first to arrive.

"Did you find him, Dicky?" was his breathless question.

"No, he was gone. Someone else had cut him loose. I'll tell you tomorrow. I can't now. Here's Calvert."

As he spoke the bully came stalking in, and the moment he saw Dicky he came straight toward him.

"Where have you been, you young swab?" he demanded.

"You'd better go and ask the Doctor if you want to know," returned Dicky with spirit.

"All right!" growled Calvert, with a very ugly look in his deep-set eyes. "That's three lickings you're going to get—one for this afternoon, one for butting me on the stairs, and another for this piece of cheek." As he spoke he caught Dicky by the arm, and gave it a sharp twist.

Dicky let out a sweeping kick, and the heel of his boot got home on Calvert's shin with a force that made him loose his hold with pain.

"I'll give you something for that," he roared.

Dicky faced him coolly.

"You try it," he said sharply, and something in his tone startled Calvert.

"What do you mean?" he demanded.

"Where's Janion?" asked Dicky meaningly.

Calvert glared at Dicky; but Dick's eyes met his firmly, and Calvert's dropped. Without another word he turned and went off.

Tom Burland had been standing by, listening eagerly.

"What did you mean, Dicky?" he asked in a low voice. "How did you scare him off?"

"It was he who turned Janion loose," replied Dicky in a whisper. "What's more, I can prove it."


CHAPTER 55
Dicky Hides the Bag

THE first thing Dicky did the next morning was to take Miss Morland's bag out of his clothes locker and hide it in the deep inside pocket of his jacket. He made up his mind to lock it up in his play-box. There no one could meddle with it.

The next thing he did was to go round to the sick-room to inquire for Joe Last.

The news was good. Joe had come back to his senses and was resting comfortably. There was no injury to the skull, only a scalp wound, and the doctor had said that if he were kept quiet for two or three days he ought soon to be quite all right again.

So Dicky went to breakfast feeling, on the whole, a little happier.

As he took his place he saw Calvert scowling at him in the distance, but by this time Dicky was hardened to black looks, and he did not let them spoil his appetite.

He and Tom had a new pot of jam between them, and they both made an excellent meal.

"Now tell me," said Tom, as the two went out together—"about Janion, I mean."

Dicky gave a short account of his visit to the cave with Professor Perrin.

"But how do you know it was Calvert who let Janion loose?" Tom questioned eagerly.

Dicky looked round so as to be sure no one was watching. Then he slipped his hand into his pocket and pulled out a large horn button of a mottled greyish colour.

Tom spotted it at once.

"Off Calvert's overcoat," he said.

"That's it," replied Dicky soberly. "Calvert must have followed us to the cave, waited till we had left, then climbed up. The thing's a dead cert, for Calvert was soaking wet when I met him on the stairs."

"Yes, it's a sure thing," agreed Tom. "What's more, he's pretty well scared."

"He is," said Dicky thoughtfully, "though I don't quite see why."

"Guilty conscience," replied Tom.

Dicky grinned.

"All the better for us. He'll be afraid to try hammering us again."

Tom shook his head.

"You keep your weather eye lifting, old son. If Calvert can't hammer you he'll try to get square some other way. Now we'd better go and do our prep. work for the next hour."

Busy over this, Dicky completely forgot Miss Morland's bag until just before school, when it was too late to make a dive for the box-room.

"Never mind," he said to himself. "I'll do it at twelve."

But at twelve his form-master kept the whole form in for a quarter of an hour, because several boys had failed in their construe, and it was about twenty past before Dicky at last reached the box-room. He was relieved to find the big, shed-like place apparently empty, for, naturally, he did not want anyone except Tom to know that he was in possession of the little hand-bag.

Unlocking his box, he buried the bag at the very bottom of everything, piled a lot of odds and ends on top, closed the box, relocked it, put the key in his pocket, and went off to find Tom.

Tom was waiting near the gate.

"Let's go down to the village," he said. "We've got that fiver to split, and I want to buy a whole lot of things."

"So do I," said Dicky recklessly.

There was no choice of shops in Maplestone. It was Sugg's or nothing, so it was there they went to make their purchases. They bought a cake, a lot of biscuits, three tins of potted meat, and half a dozen pots of jam of different kinds.

"They'll go on for ever so long," said Tom, "and we may as well have a pound of chocolates as well."

"Right," said Dicky, as he handed over the note to Sugg.


CHAPTER 56
In the Hands of the Enemy

THE man's mean little eyes widened, for it was not often that a small boy—or, for that matter, any boy from the school—produced a five-pound note.

"Going it, ain't you, Mr. Dent?" he remarked facetiously.

But Dicky, who did not like the man, made no answer. He was in the act of stowing away the change in his pocket-book when two other boys came into the shop. They were Doran and Gilkes, and Dicky noticed that they exchanged quick glances, and then that Doran whispered something in Gilkes's ear.

"Hullo, Dent!" said Doran, with an unpleasant grin. "Has someone left you a fortune?"

"Aren't you going to stand treat?" asked Gilkes.

Dicky looked at the pair; then he flung a two-shilling piece down on the counter.

"You can eat that much!" he said scornfully.

Doran's sharp face went dusky red, and he took a quick step forward. But Gilkes caught him by the arm.

"Don't be an ass!" Dicky heard him say, in a sharp whisper; and Gilkes, though still fuming, subsided.

Without a second glance at either of them, Dicky picked up his parcels and walked straight out of the shop, and Tom followed.

As soon as they were outside Tom came alongside Dicky.

"You duffer!" he said sharply. "What did you do that for?"

"It was rather a waste, I admit," said Dicky.

"I don't mean that. It was the way you did it. Doran won't forgive you for that in a hurry. And I wish those beggars hadn't seen us with all that cash," he added significantly.

"What? Do you think they'd rob us?"

"No," replied Tom, with a shake of his head. "Not that, but—"

He stopped, and for the rest of the way back to the school did not say a word.

The two went to the box-room and stowed their goods away in their play-boxes, after which the dinner-bell rang and they joined the other boys in Hall. When the meal was over they changed and went up to football. Being Monday, there was an hour's school before tea, and the boys came down from the field about four.

Having changed their clothes, the chums went again to the box-room, intending to enjoy a hunch of cake before going into school. They still had half an hour to spare, and were sitting in the box-room, leisurely munching their cake, when several other boys came in, and, looking up, Dicky saw Calvert accompanied by Doran and Gilkes. Doran came straight up to Dicky.

"Where did you get all that cash you were chucking about this morning?" he demanded. Dicky's eyes flashed.

"What business is that of yours?" he retorted. "You had your share of it, anyhow."

Doran went red with rage, but it was Calvert who spoke next.

"We believe you stole it!" he said bluntly.

The accusation was so gross, so utterly unexpected, that Dicky's jaw dropped and he stood gasping, unable for the moment to speak at all.

Before he could find words, Calvert and his companions had flung themselves upon the two smaller boys. Dicky was taken completely by surprise, and Calvert had him pinned down in a moment. Tom hit out hard, but Doran and Gilkes, between them, were too much for him, and in a moment he, too, was helpless. Doran sat on Tom, releasing Gilkes, and Calvert turned over Dicky to Gilkes and rose to his feet.

"Now," he said, "we're jolly well going to find out about this business. We all three think that this money you chaps are chucking about is what Dent stole from Miss Morland, and we're going to search your play-boxes to find out! I shall start on yours, Dent."


CHAPTER 57
Calvert Gets the Upper Hand

LEAVING Dicky in Gilkes's grasp, Calvert began to ransack Dicky's play-box.

Almost at once he had the bag, and was holding it up before the others.

"What did I tell you?" he exclaimed, in ugly triumph. "What about it, Doran? Wasn't I right?"

"You jolly well were," declared Doran. "That's Miss Morland's bag all right. There are her initials on it. R. M."

With a violent effort Dicky flung him off. It was no use. Calvert had him before he could get away, and, flinging him down again, threw all his weight on top of him.

"No you don't!" he snapped. "You'll just lie where you are, and wait there till we've settled your case. What have you done with those deeds, eh?"

For the moment Dicky had been quite unable to speak, for Calvert's heavy weight had knocked all the breath out of his body. But now he had got it back a little, and he managed to answer.

"You talk like that!" he said bitterly. "Why, you've been hunting them yourself, for days past. You can say what you like, but Burland and I both heard every word you said to Janion the other day up at the Marl Pits."

For the moment Calvert was quite taken back.

Tom chimed in.

"Yes, we heard. We know you were trying to bribe Janion to give you the bag. I suppose you wanted it to plant on Dent."

"And what were you doing in the Swallet Hole last night?" added Dicky quickly.

Calvert saw the ears of Gilkes and Doran pricked with interest. He pulled himself together.

"I haven't the faintest notion what you're talking about," he said coolly. "I suppose you're trying to invent something to throw the blame off yourselves."

"Do you mean to deny you were talking to Janion?" cried Dicky in sudden passion.

"Not a bit," was the quick answer. "As a matter of fact, I've been busy ever since the beginning of term trying to get to the bottom of things, and Doran and Gilkes can back me up in that. I tackled Janion to find out if he could tell me anything, for I knew he'd been there at the time of the accident. He helped to put me on the right scent, and if it hadn't been for your pal Last butting in I'd have got the rights of it days ago."

For the moment Dicky was so staggered by this bold tissue of lies that he could find nothing to say. It was Tom who answered.

"You're a liar, Calvert," he said bluntly.

Calvert's lips twisted in fury. But hie managed to control himself.

"No, I won't lick you," he said. "You and Dent are going to have a worse punishment than that. When the whole school knows what you've done you'll have a sweet time of it. Oh, you're going to enjoy yourselves, I can tell you!" He laughed, a nasty, grating laugh.


CHAPTER 58
Sent to Coventry

"WHAT do you think he's going to do?" asked Dicky.

It was just before tea, and he and Tom were walking together round the quadrangle in the chilly darkness of the evening.

"Calvert, you mean?"

"Yes, of course," said Dicky.

"Why, it's clear as mud! He means to start the yarn that you bagged Miss Morland's property, and that you've hidden the deeds somewhere and that you and I have been saving up the money until now, so as to avoid suspicion."

Dicky nodded.

"Yes, that's about the size of it, I suppose. The question is, will the other chaps believe him?"

"A lot of them will," answered Tom gravely. "You see, Calvert can make up a pretty good story."

"And he's got the bag to show," added Dicky.

"Then that's what he's been wanting it for all along, I suppose," said Tom. "That's why he tried to buy it from Janion?"

Dicky shook his head.

"No. He wanted to plant it on Joe Last. He hates Joe even more than he does us. It was only because Joe is out of the way and because Calvert found out that I had the bag that he changed his mind."

"How did he know you had the bag?"

"Why, from Janion, of course. And the chances are that he looked in my dormitory locker last night and spotted it there."

"Then why didn't he collar it at once?" asked Tom.

"Because he wanted witnesses. I expect he watched me put it in my play-box this morning, and then got Gilkes and Doran, and the whole three waited until we came into the box-room."

"He's an awful brute," stated Tom plainly.

Dicky smiled wryly.

"Of course he is. But it won't do any good abusing him. We've got to try to find some way out of this horrible business."

Before Tom could find anything to say, the tea-bell rang, and they had to hurry to the dining hall. As they took their seats they were both conscious that everyone was looking at them, and that the glances were not friendly.

Dicky's heart sank, for he realised that Calvert had been as good as his word, and that he had already spread the story about the school.

But he took his seat quietly. He and Tom helped themselves out of their pot of jam. Then he passed the pot across to the boy opposite, a boy called Hamilton who was in the same form as Tom and himself, and with whom they generally shared good things.

"Have some jam, Hamilton?" he said.

Hamilton did not answer, and Dicky repeated his question in a louder voice. Still no reply, and Dicky became aware that Hamilton was not even looking at him.

In a flash the truth burst upon him. He and Tom had already been sent to Coventry. The order had gone out that they were to be ignored—treated simply as if they did not exist. He felt himself going hot all over.

Tom, however, was equal to the occasion.

"Poor dear!" he said sarcastically. "Hamilton has gone deaf and dumb. Never mind, Dicky. There'll be all the more for us."

Hamilton looked foolish, some boys grinned, others scowled, but not a soul said one word to either Dicky or Tom during the rest of the meal.

The two went out together.

"So now we know," said Tom grimly. "This is going to be pretty beastly, old man."

"Do they all believe I'm a thief?" asked Dicky bitterly.

"Not all," replied Tom, "but those who don't are afraid to say so. They think they might find themselves in the same box with us."

"I wish I could think what was the best thing to do," said Dicky. "Professor Perrin told me to come to him if there was trouble. He's a jolly good sort."

Tom agreed.

"All the same you'd better not tackle him, I think."

"Why not?"

"Because he'd go to the Doctor or else to Inspector Croome. Then you can't tell what would happen."

Dicky nodded.

"Then you think we'd better wait a bit and see what happens?"

"That's the idea. Sit tight and hope for better times."

Tom's advice no doubt was good, but it was none too easy to follow, for the boycott held and the two boys found themselves absolutely cut off from their kind.

Their loneliness was appalling. Neither in class-room, hall, nor outside did anyone address a single word to them. They were treated as if they did not exist. Games were out of the question for no one would play with them. If they had not had one another to speak to they would have died of sheer loneliness.


CHAPTER 59
The Worst Week

A WEEK passed—the worst week Dicky had ever known. The boycott hit him even worse than it did Tom, for Dicky was a chummy, companionable sort, while Tom's nature was more silent and self-reliant.

At night Dicky would lie awake either shaking with anger against Calvert and all his friends, or else desperately but vainly planning for some way out of this horrible business. But in the day he went about with his head high, and to all appearance caring nothing for the way in which he was being treated.

Several boys were so struck by this that they were badly puzzled, and would like to have asked Dicky for an explanation. But, after all, there was the evidence of three boys that Miss Morland's bag had been found in Dicky's box, and neither Dicky nor Tom had offered to explain it.

It must be remembered, too, that there were a lot of boys who, like Dicky and Tom, were cut off from their sisters at Warley, and who were very sick and savage about the state of things. Everyone at Medland was silent and surly, and Dr. Fair himself was quite evidently depressed and unhappy. No wonder, for Miss Morland now refused even to speak to him, and she had actually threatened to take the playing-fields away altogether.

Out of school Dicky and Tom spent as much time as was possible taking long walks, and more than once they secretly visited the Hollow in the vague hope of getting hold of Janion.

Janion, they found, was still living in the ruined cottage. He was evidently desperately hard up, for day by day he grew more shabby. His cheeks were beginning to fall in, and he looked savage and desperate, As far as Dicky and Tom could find out, he and Calvert had not met again.

It was on the second Wednesday—that is, just ten days after the Sunday of the storm—that Dicky and Tom, on their way down into the village, saw a tall boy walking in front of them.

"It's Philip Aylmer," whispered Dicky to Tom. "And looking like a lost dog. I wonder what he's after."

"Someone to stand him a feed, I expect," replied Tom, rather scornfully. "He's always cadging for a loan of sixpence or a lump of cake. I can't imagine how Joe ever had such a brother."

"He's only a half-brother," replied Dicky quickly.

"He's no good, anyhow," said Tom.

Dicky caught his chum by the arm.

"There's Calvert," he said in a whisper, as the bully came out of Sugg's shop.

Philip Aylmer saw Calvert, and went quickly up to him, but what he said the chums could not hear. But they could hear Calvert's reply.

"Get out!" he said coarsely. "I'm sick of you and your begging. If you want cash you'd better go to that pretty brother of yours."

Pushing Philip roughly out of his way, he went on down the street and, turning the corner, disappeared.

Philip, who seemed to have no sense of shame, stood gazing greedily into Sugg's window at the buns and jam tarts which were spread temptingly on trays.

Dicky, who had come down to buy shoe-laces, took some money from his pocket, and was counting it as he went toward the shop door. Suddenly he felt a touch on his arm.

"Lend me a bob," came Philip's eager voice.

Dicky simply stared at him. It was the first time that any boy except Tom had spoken to him for more than a week.

"Lend me a shilling," repeated Philip. "I'll pay you next Saturday when I get my allowance."

"Will you talk to me in the meantime?" asked Dicky, and his voice rang with a scorn which he could not hide.

Philip stood looking covetously at the money in Dicky's hand.

"I—I—" he stammered.

"No, of course you won't," returned Dicky bitterly. "Here, take your shilling. I won't lend it you. I'll give it you."

He was in the act of putting the coin in Philip's eager hand when he was suddenly swung aside with a force that nearly knocked him off his feet. The shilling went clinking along the pavement, and he looked up, to see Joe Last striding down upon Philip.

Joe looked taller and leaner than ever, but his blue eyes were full of that same blazing anger that Dicky had seen more than once before. He caught Philip by the collar, and shook him as a terrier shakes a rat, then flung him aside.

"You miserable dog!" he cried. "I knew you were no good, but I'd never have believed this if I hadn't seen it." He stopped, and stood breathing hard. "I'm done with you," he said bitterly. "Done with you; do you hear? You may be my brother, but I'm finished with you."


CHAPTER 60
Calvert's Threat

JOE LAST'S anger was so sudden and violent that, for the moment, Dicky had been too startled to interfere. But now he stepped forward quickly.

"I say, Last—" he began.

Joe did not pay the least attention.

"I've done with you, Philip," he repeated, glaring at his brother. "A fellow that's so lost to all sense of decency as you are is no brother of mine. After this you can go your own way. You can pick up with Calvert or any bounder you like. I shan't interfere!"

Philip turned nasty.

"It's all your fault!" he retorted sulkily. "You wouldn't give me any money."

"Wouldn't give you any money?" repeated Joe, and his anger seemed almost to choke him. "I beggared myself to pay your debts. I did worse. I—" He cut himself short, closing his teeth with a snap.

For once Philip looked frightened.

"I couldn't help it!" he whined. "I didn't want to get into debt."

"But you did, and you'd do it again if you could—if anyone would trust you. You're no better than a leech. I believe you'd steal from a blind man to satisfy your beastly appetite." Joe paused and drew breath. "But this is the limit," he went on, with biting scorn. "To beg from a fellow whom you've treated as you've treated Dent shows that you've got no more self-respect than a dog. Clear out and don't speak to me again."

Philip slunk away, and Joe watched him for a moment, then swung round abruptly on Dicky.

"A nice mess you've made of it!" he said curtly.

Dicky stared, for he really had not a notion what Joe meant.

"What on earth made you let them see the bag?" went on Joe.

"I didn't. They got it out of my box," replied Dicky, sharply.

"Serves you right for keeping it there. You ought to have hidden it outside the school."

Dicky did not reply. He felt that Joe was absolutely unjust, but recognised that he was so worked up that he hardly knew what he was saying.

Joe stood a moment staring at Dicky, with an odd expression on his face.

"Not your fault, I suppose you're thinking," he said abruptly. "Perhaps you're right. I ought to have told you. I should have told you if I hadn't been knocked out. Now come on back to the school. It's going to rain like anything before long!"

As he spoke he slipped his arm through Dicky's.

Dicky did not budge.

"You can't walk with us, Last. Don't you know we're in Coventry?"

Joe laughed harshly.

"Know? I know that Calvert and Co. have stuffed the rest of the fellow's up with lies which they've been idiots enough to believe. I'm going to show them there's one chap, at least, who isn't as big a fool as the rest."

Dicky still hung back.

"They'll send you to Coventry, too," he remonstrated.

"They'll send me to Coventry? I'd like to see 'em. It'll be the other way about. Now come on."

Joe's mind was made up, and there was nothing for Dicky and Tom but to yield. But to both of them it was quite a curious sensation to find themselves in another boy's company after their week of utter loneliness.

For some distance they walked in silence, then Joe suddenly snapped out a remark.

"You didn't tell Calvert and his crew where you found the bag?"

"No," replied Dicky.

"Why didn't you?"

Dicky was silent.

"Can't you speak?" demanded Joe.

"Well, I wanted to ask you first," said Dicky, rather lamely.

Joe laughed bitterly, and Dicky looked at him with puzzled eyes. For the life of him he could not tell how much or how little Joe Last knew about this wretched business.

They were now quite close to the school gates, and before anything more could be said several boys came out. The first was Calvert, and at sight of the three approaching all together he pulled up short, and stood glaring at them.

"Don't you know that those two chaps are in Coventry, Last?" he asked. "You'll go there, too, if you have anything to do with them."


CHAPTER 61
Joe's Defiance

JOE strode forward, and again there was that wild light in his brilliant blue eyes.

"I know that you and your pretty pals here have stuffed the school up with lies," he said, with cold directness. "I know that the whole business was worked by your nasty spite, though you know perfectly well that neither Dent nor Burland had anything to do with Miss Morland's bag. You're a liar. Calvert, as well as a coward."

The accusation was so fierce, so direct, that for the moment Calvert's eyes could not meet those of his accuser, and he stood silent, shuffling his feet and scowling. But only for a moment. Backed as he was by Doran, Gilkes and others of his hangers-on, he did not feel that he had really anything to fear from Joe.

"Perhaps you stole it yourself?" he retorted.

The answer came in a flash—a clean blow that knocked the bully clean off his feet. He pitched heavily against Doran, and his unexpected weight bowled that worthy over, so that both went down together.

"A fight! A fight!" cried a dozen voices, as a crowd of other boys who had been watching a fives match just inside the gate came running up.

Joe pointed to Calvert, who lay flat on his back on the ground.

"There's the chap who's been stuffing you all up with lies!" he said, in a voice that rang with scorn. "And you've been fools enough to believe him. Now, listen, you fellows. You know I don't tell lies. I give you my word that neither Dent nor Burland ever had anything to do with stealing that bag. All they have done is to try hard to catch the chap that did do it, and this is the way you've rewarded them."

More and more boys were coming up. By this time there were at least twenty in the crowd. For a moment no one answered Joe. Then someone—it was the sharp-faced Gilkes—spoke up.

"It's all very well for Last to give his word," he said in a decidedly nasty tone. "Calvert gave us proof. He showed us Miss Morland's bag hidden in Dent's box. Then Last asks us to take his bare word that Dent has had nothing to do with it. I don't care what he says. Proofs are better than words."

For once Joe Last hesitated. His eyes roved quickly over the crowd of boys, and he saw that, while some were ready to be convinced, most of them clearly sided with Gilkes. As Gilkes had said, the fact that Miss Morland's bag had been actually found in Dicky's play-box was a solid fact which none of them could get over.

Joe made one more effort.

"I know that Dent had nothing to do with it," he cried sharply.

"How do you know?" came back Gilkes's reply.

A desperate look came into Joe's eyes.

"That I can't tell you now. All I've got to offer you is my word of honour."

"That's good enough, Last," came one or two voices, but nine out of ten of the boys who were listening remained doubtfully silent.

By this time Calvert was on his feet again.

"Well, it's not good enough for me," he growled out. "Look at me," he went on. "When I doubt Last's word he plugs me in the face. That's the only argument he's got left."

Joe swung round on Calvert.

"You know very well that wasn't the reason I knocked you down," he snapped out. "And if you've got any sense left you'd better keep your mouth shut. Though I don't accuse you of stealing the bag, I can prove that you know a good deal more about it than is healthy for you. Suppose I tell the other chaps about you and Janion?"

Calvert's heavy cheeks went dull red, and his deep-set eyes burned with sudden anger.

"Tell us—tell us, Last," cried a dozen boys at once.

But Joe shook his head.

"No; I'm not going to do that. Not yet, anyhow. But you shall have the whole story later. And, what's more, you shall have proof that Dent and Burland are as innocent as any of you." He paused. "Now you can jolly well do as you like," he cried in a ringing voice. "I stick by Dent and Burland. If you send them to Coventry you send me. What's more, I don't care a farthing whether you do or not."

With that he caught Dicky with one hand and Tom with the other, and shoved out through the crowd, leaving the whole lot talking and arguing as hard as they could go.


CHAPTER 62
The Storm

DINNER that day was a queer meal. As Dicky and Tom took their usual places, one or two of the boys nodded to them or said briefly "Hallo!" And though most still held aloof, Dicky felt that the boycott was broken, and was profoundly grateful to Joe.

Just after the boys had taken their places and grace had been said the thunderstorm that had been brewing all the morning burst with a loud clap of thunder. Then down came the rain in torrents, beating on the roof with a roar which, mingled with the thunder and wind, made a noise that drowned any other sound.

Inside the long room the atmosphere was almost as electric as outside. Everyone felt that something was going to happen, but no one quite knew what.

Dicky looked at Joe Last, who was in his usual place near the head of the table. Joe's face was set and drawn, and he sat perfectly silent, hardly eating anything.

His appearance troubled Dicky.

"He's planning something," he whispered in Tom's ear.

"Yes," replied Tom, in an equally low voice. "I vote we watch him."

But this was easier said than done, for the moment dinner was over Joe went swiftly out and vanished in the pouring rain. Dicky and Tom ran up to their dormitory, thinking he might have gone there to get his mackintosh. There was no sign of him, so they got theirs, and hurried first to Joe's class-room, then to the box-room.

They saw nothing of him, and ran to the gates, where they questioned Mangles.

"Mr. Last—yes, he went out four or five minutes ago," said Mangles. "I told him it was no day for a walk, but he took no notice. And him just out of hospital, too!"

"Which way did he go, Mangles?" asked Dicky.

"Up through the playing-fields," was the reply; and the two small boys exchanged quick glances. "He's gone to the Hollow," whispered Dicky.

"Then we'd better go, too," replied Tom curtly, and without another word they started away.

The worst of the storm was over, but the rain still fell heavily, and the lightning flashed in the distance. The gutters were running like mill streams, and the playing-fields were swimming. But neither Dicky nor Tom paid the least attention to the weather. Both were too uneasy.

Travelling at a steady jog, they crossed the fields and began to breast the long slope leading to the Marl Pits. It was odd that neither had the least doubt as to Joe's destination; both felt perfectly certain that he was after Janion.

Presently they had proof, for in the mud by a stile they found fresh footmarks which both felt sure were Joe's.

They quickened their pace, but the rain made it impossible to see far, and the bare fields which they crossed were absolutely deserted. The very birds seemed to have been driven to shelter by the tremendous downpour.

At last they saw the trees that backed the Marl Pits looming up though the grey haze, and slackened their pace.

"What shall we do?" asked Tom.

"Go to the edge of the Hollow and watch the cottage," replied Dicky, without hesitation.

"But he may be inside by this time!" objected Tom.

"Then we shall have to go in too," replied Dicky firmly.

"We'd better get a couple of sticks," suggested Tom, and Dicky merely nodded.

Working up through the scrub and brambles, they carefully approached the cottage. As they got near there was a sudden pungent reek of smoke in their nostrils. It grew stronger, and both began to run. Next moment they were within sight of the desolate-looking house, and both pulled up short.

"It's on fire!" gasped Dicky.

Smoke was pouring out through the cracked window-panes, great coils of thick, black, oily stuff, but they could see no flames.

As they stopped, uncertain for the moment what to do, the door burst open and out rushed Janion. Next instant a tall, slim figure darted out from under the far side of the ruin and ran in pursuit.

"It's Joe!" cried Dicky.


CHAPTER 63
Dicky Reasons It Out

JUST then the lightning flashed again, and in its glare Dicky got a glimpse of Joe's face, and if its expression had troubled him at dinner-time, now it absolutely, terrified him.

"Catch him! We must catch him!" he cried, and made a dash forward.

In his wild haste he forgot the treacherous state of the ground, and plunged recklessly over the edge of the bank leading down into the hollow. His boots skidded on the slippery clay, and down he went with a thud that knocked the wind out of him so completely that he lay panting and gasping for breath.

Tom was beside him in a moment.

"Are you hurt?" he asked anxiously, but for the moment Dicky could not answer him.

"N-no," he got out presently, and Tom helped him to his feet.

"W-where are they?" panted Dicky as he started off again.

"Out of sight, I'm afraid," said Tom. It was true. The rain was now falling as heavily as ever, and of Janion and Joe Last there was not the faintest sign.

Dicky was frantic.

"Tom, we must find Joe," he exclaimed. "His face—did you see it? It scared me."

"I saw it right enough," replied Tom grimly. "But I'm afraid it's a hopeless job."

The two ran side by side in the direction in which Last and Janion had disappeared; but Tom was right—it was a hopeless job. On the grass of the meadow below the Hollow there were no footmarks that they could follow, and though they circled round in every direction they never got sight or sound of the others.

"We'd better go back to the Hollow," said Tom at last.

"What's the good of that?" asked Dicky bitterly.

"Janion might have gone back there to put the fire out," replied Tom in his sober way.

Dicky shrugged his shoulders. He was wet through, badly blown, and badly frightened.

"All right," he replied curtly, and they went back. To their amazement the cottage seemed all right. The smoke had all gone.

"Rain must have put the fire out," said Tom. "Shall we have a look?"

Dicky nodded, and they crept up. The place seemed empty, and they ventured to peer through a broken pane. Inside, a quantity of black ash lay on the floor.

"Looks like burnt paper," said Tom, puzzled.

But Dicky's sharp wits fathomed the mystery.

"It is burnt paper. Joe must have stuck it in through the window so as to drive Janion out."

Tom's eyes widened.

"That's about the size of it," he said slowly. "But what did he want to drive him out for?"

"Because he wanted to find the deeds," replied Dicky, quick as a flash.

Tom stared.

"Don't you see?" said Dicky impatiently. "Janion knew the Swallet Hole wasn't a safe hiding-place any longer, so he took the papers back here until he could find a new one. At least, that's the way Joe reasoned it out. Joe knew that anyone who thinks his house is on fire always grabs whatever is most valuable, so as to save it. That's the plan he's working on."

Tom considered a moment.

"Then you mean that Janion had the deeds when he bolted out, and that Joe meant to get them from him?"

"That's how I size it up," replied Dicky.

"But Janion's twice as strong as Joe," remonstrated Tom.

"Perhaps he is, but he's not half so quick."

"Then you think that Joe might have got them from him?"

"That's what I think. I only hope—" Dicky's voice was very anxious. "I only hope Joe hasn't killed him."

Tom shivered slightly. He, too, had seen the look on Joe Last's face and had not liked it. But he pulled himself together.

"Nonsense, Dicky!" he replied sharply. "Joe isn't that sort. Now let's get back. We can't do any good here, and we may find Joe at school."

Neither of them said much as they tramped back. The rain fell harder than ever. It was like a tropical downpour. Every ditch was brimful, and down in the valley the Merle was roaring ominously.


CHAPTER 64
Dicky Goes to the Doctor

JOE was not in the school.

After quickly changing their soaked clothes, Dicky and Tom looked everywhere for him, but without success. At half-past four, when they had to go into afternoon school, they were both thoroughly scared.

"Think we'd better go to the Doctor, Dicky?" asked Tom, as they crossed the quadrangle under the same umbrella.

"Not yet," replied Dicky gravely, "but if he isn't back by tea-time I think we must."

For Dicky and Tom that hour of school was a perfect horror. Dicky in particular was so white and shaky that his master noticed it, and asked him quietly if he were ill.

But the worst of things comes to an end, and at last the tea-bell rang, and Dicky dashed out and across to the gate lodge.

"No, sir," was Mangles's reply to the boy's anxious question; "Mr. Last is not in. I've reported it to the master, and he's in a state about it. He's afraid something has happened."

Dicky and Tom looked at one another.

"We've got to tell him," said Dicky, in a voice that was little more than a whisper. Tom nodded, and, instead of following the rest of the boys to the dining-hall, the two went straight to Dr. Fair's study.

They found him in the act of putting on his mackintosh. He had grown thinner in the past few weeks, and his face looked old and careworn. He started slightly as the two boys appeared, then, looking at them, seemed to sense their errand.

"You have come about Last?" he said sharply.

"Yes, sir," replied Dicky. "We have."

"Tell me," said the Doctor; and Dicky, without further delay, told the story of the afternoon.

Dr. Fair's face grew even graver.

"And the last you saw of him he was chasing this man Janion?"

"Yes, sir."

"But why?"

Dicky felt horribly qualmish. He glanced at Tom, but Tom merely nodded, and Dicky realised that now at last he would have to make a clean breast of everything that had happened since the beginning of the term. There was nothing else for it.

The Doctor listened gravely, though at times—and especially when Dicky spoke of their adventure in the Swallet Hole—a look of surprise, almost of amazement, crossed his face. The two things that Dicky of course omitted were Calvert's blackguardly behaviour and the fact that he and Tom had been put in Coventry. And he said as little as possible about Philip.

But Dr. Fair had not been a schoolmaster for twenty years without being able to put two and two together, and, as a matter of fact, he was perfectly well aware that Calvert had been acting the bully. By the time Dicky had finished he knew almost as much as Dicky did himself, and had filled in most of the gaps.

Having told his story Dicky stood silent. He fully expected that he and Tom were in for it, for he knew they had broken bounds and all sorts of school rules. Not that he gave much thought to this; he was far too anxious about Joe.

The Doctor spoke.

"You have done well to come to me, Dent. As for your share and Burland's, you seem to have taken a good deal upon yourselves, but at the same time to have acted with commendable courage. The one point that still puzzles me is what part Last has in this unhappy business."

"That's what has been worrying us, sir," confessed Dicky. He looked up in the master's face. "If you ask me, sir, I believe he is shielding somebody else."

A shadow of a smile crossed the Doctor's face.

"You are a loyal soul, Dent. It may be so, and I hope it is. But just now we have no time to discuss this matter. Last must be found. That is our first task. I must communicate with Sergeant Croome, and—"

"What—with the police, sir?" exclaimed Dicky, in dismay.

"I see nothing else for it," answered the master. "For all we know, Last may have caught and attacked Janion, with a view to getting the deeds from him. In which case there can be hardly any doubt as to the result. Last may be lying terribly hurt out in this terrible storm."

"But the police, sir," said Dicky, deeply troubled. "If they come into it they might arrest Joe," he blurted out.

The Doctor looked very grave.

"We must trust that nothing of the sort will happen, my boy. But you must understand that they are the people to be appealed to in a case of this kind. I shall ask two of the masters to go as well, and I shall send Mangles and Bell. Now you must go back to the others and get your tea, and please say nothing about this to anyone."

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir," replied Dicky, and went away, feeling more upset than ever, yet in a way thankful that at last the Doctor had matters in his capable hands.


CHAPTER 65
The Waiting

IT is astonishing how news leaks out in a school. Though neither Dicky nor Tom had breathed a word to anyone else, every boy in the place had got wind that something was up.

Joe's absence from school had, of course, been noticed, and perhaps some of them had been questioning Mangles. At any rate, when Dicky came into the dining-hall, very late, he was at once assailed with questions by a dozen different boys.

The fact that he and Tom were supposed to be still in Coventry was entirely forgotten, and even Calvert and his pals did not make any effort to enforce it.

Indeed, Dicky noticed that Calvert was sitting glum and silent, and looking anything but happy, and that Doran and Gilkes were not talking to him, but were whispering together.

Dicky could not help feeling a little pleased that he and Tom were able to get a little of their own back.

"I don't know where Last is," he said briefly. "And if I did I shouldn't tell you."

Seeing that it was no use cross-questioning him the others at last left him alone, and he finished his tea in peace. Not that he had much appetite for it; he was far too worried about Joe.

Tea over, he and Tom went across to their class-room together.

The rain was still coming down almost as heavily as ever, and above the drum of the rain they could plainly hear a sound that none of them had ever before heard. It was the roar of the Merle rushing down the valley in tremendous flood.

Though it was too dark to see it, the low thunder was continuous, and in the class-room boys were talking about it.

"There'll be trouble if it rises much more," a boy called Manton was saying. "I expect the village will be flooded. I was down there this afternoon, and the people are in a funk of getting water into their cellars."

Another boy named Hart answered. Hart's people lived near Maplestone.

"It won't matter so long as the dam holds," he said. "But if that went we should have a bust up. There'd be a flood that would take the bottom out of the valley."

"You mean the dam at Crosscombe Gorge?" asked someone.

"Yes, the Deadwater, where they get the water from Salton," replied Hart. "But it's all right. You needn't worry about it. I expect the Salton people take jolly good care to keep it in good condition."

Just then the door flung open and Doran burst into the room.

"I say, you chaps, there's a rare row on about Last. I've just seen Bates and another master going off with Mangles and Bell the boot-boy. They've got lanterns and all sorts of things."

Everyone gathered round Doran and began asking questions and talking excitedly. All, that is, except Dicky and Tom.

Prep. bell rang, and the boys gathered in the big school room for the last hour of the day's work.

Dr. Fair himself came in and took up his post at the desk. This was unusual, for one of the assistant masters always took prep. Everyone noticed how anxious and troubled he looked. But he said nothing, and the boys sat quietly enough. Outside, the rain roared down as heavily as ever. It seemed as if it would never stop.


CHAPTER 66
Bad News

THE big clock ticked on steadily, and the minute hand was drawing near to eight, when quite suddenly the outer door opened and in hurried a figure wrapped in a streaming mackintosh. The boys sat gaping open-eyed, for of all the visitors who could have been possibly expected this was the last whom anyone would have thought of.

It was Miss Morland herself.

"Robert! Robert!" she exclaimed, as she hurried across to her brother-in-law, and her voice was broken with excitement and tears. "Oh, the poor boy!"

The Doctor came striding, toward her.

"What is it? Has anything happened to Last?"

"I—I don't know, Robert, but I fear so. Oh, I am terribly afraid!"

From under her wraps she produced a letter, which she handed to the Doctor, and he, taking it hastily, held it to the light and read it through.

Both he and Miss Morland, it was clear, had absolutely forgotten the boys, and the boys themselves sat like mice, hardly breathing, all feeling that they were watching something dreadfully serious.

Dicky saw the master's face quiver.

"Good Heavens!" he gasped below his breath. "But this is terrible!" Then he pulled himself together. "Come to my study, Ruth. Boys, go to your dormitories. And keep order, please, among yourselves."

He started out through the inner door with Miss Morland, but at the door he stopped and turned.

"Dent, you come with me. Yes, and Burland."

Dicky and Tom rose from their places, and, followed by scores of wondering eyes, went out after the Doctor and Miss Morland.


CHAPTER 67
Joe's Letter

THE moment they reached the study the Doctor closed the door, and pulled up a chair to the fire for his sister-in-law.

"Ruth," he said, "I have asked these two boys to accompany us because they know more of the details of this distressing business than any others in the school, and because I find that they have spent the whole of their spare time since the beginning of term in constant efforts to recover your property."

"Oh, these wretched deeds!" cried Miss Morland. "I can hardly bear to think of them!"

Dicky and Tom stared. From Miss Morland such a speech was startling, to put it mildly.

Dr. Fair turned to Dicky.

"Dent," he said, "this letter which Miss Morland has received is from Last. And it solves the puzzle of his connection with the disappearance of the deeds.

"May I tell them, Ruth?" he asked.

"Yes—yes!" she said quickly.

"Then I will read it."


Dear Miss Morland (the letter began),

I am sending you back the deeds which were in your bag. I got them from Janion. Never mind how. I can't have other chaps getting into a row for what's my fault, so I am going to tell you the whole thing.

When the accident happened to the train I went back to see if I could help. I found your bag hidden behind a little bush close to the line, and I picked it up and opened it to see whose it was. Then I saw the loose notes in it. I wanted money. I can't tell you why, but I wanted it worse than I can say.

On the spur of the moment I stuffed the notes into my pocket, and dropped the bag where I had found it. Then I went straight to the school. It was not till the next day that I found out whose the bag was, and then it was too late. I had used most of the money.

Then Janion tackled me. It was he who had taken the bag out of the carriage and hidden it where I found it. He tried to make me hand over the money I had left. Of course, I told him he wasn't going to have it. I defied him because I knew he couldn't say anything, or he would have gone to prison.

Dent and Burland will tell you what happened afterwards. They're good chaps, and if Dent was a bit careless in the train I hope you won't blame him any more, for he has done all he could, and so has Burland.

Now you have got the deeds I hope you'll let the chaps see their sisters again. I enclose four pounds—all I've got left of the money. The rest I promise I'll send you some time or other. I'm going off now to look for a job and see if I can make it.

I'm not coming back to the school to be expelled, as, of course, I deserve to be. All I ask is that you won't let Mother know that I'm a thief. The disgrace would kill her.

Yours truly,

Joe Last


"Oh, the poor boy! The poor boy!" said Miss Morland again; and the tears were running down her cheeks.

The Doctor stood frowning sadly over the letter.

"But what did he want the money for so badly?" he said. "I can't imagine anything that would have driven Joe Last to theft."

"Then I can tell you, sir," said Tom Burland sturdily. "No, Dicky"—as Dicky moved sharply; "it may be sneaking, but I'm going to tell. It's only fair to Joe.

"It was his brother, sir—Philip Aylmer. Philip was frightfully in debt at Sugg's, and Joe took the money to pay it off."

Dr. Fair's face changed.

"I might have known it!" he exclaimed. "Good gracious, how blind and foolish I have been! I ought to have guessed!"

"I see!—I see!" said Miss Morland quickly. "Yes, that is it, of course. Philip is weak and self-indulgent, and Joe has been shielding him all through."

She paused a moment.

"Robert," she went on forcibly, "the thing to do now is to find Joe and bring him back—at once. It must be done—before the police get hold of his story. And he must come back, and no one but ourselves need know a word of this business."

"Quite so, Ruth. I entirely agree with you," replied the Doctor. "But the question is—where is he? We know now that he was not hurt by Janion, but we also know that he has gone—run away. We may be sure he has not gone home, but there are half a dozen other directions which he might conceivably have taken."

"He must have kept the road, sir," said Dick. "It's too dark for anyone—even Joe—to go across country."

"That is true, Dent," agreed the Doctor. "Then he has either gone up or down the valley. Well, we have searchers out in both directions. We can only trust that they will find him. For ourselves, I fear that we can do nothing more than has been done."

There was silence a moment, then Miss Morland spoke.

"Robert," she said unhappily, "I feel as though I had been to blame for all this. No, do not interrupt me. I am to blame. I was more angry than I had any right to be about the loss of my bag."

She turned to Dicky.

"And you, too, Dick. I was harsh with you—quite unreasonably harsh—but I promise that I never will be again. This has been a lesson to me. You must come and see Cicely tomorrow."

Dicky went rather red. It almost frightened him to have the stately Miss Morland apologising to him.

"Thank you very much, Miss Morland," was all he could find to say. And then the Doctor broke in.

"You boys must go to bed," he said decidedly.


CHAPTER 68
How Joe Came Back

IN their dormitory they found the boys in bed, but the lights were still on, and not one of them was asleep. They were all far too excited to think of that. Everyone was talking, and the disappearance of Joe Last was the one topic of conversation.

As Dicky and Tom entered the room, Dicky heard Calvert's harsh voice.

"If you ask me, Last hooked it to save being expelled. I always thought that it was he who collared that bag of Miss Morland's."

Dicky went white with anger, but before he could speak Tom had stepped in front of him.

"Oh, did you?" he asked, sharply. "Then, if that's the case, what made you say it was Dent and me?"

For a moment Calvert was too much taken aback to answer, but only for a moment.

"You were in it with him, of course," he sneered.

There was dead silence in the room. Everyone was watching the two boys.

"You're telling lies, Calvert." replied Tom in the same cool, direct tone. "If you really thought so, why did you try to buy the bag from Janion? And why did you sneak into the Swallet Hole and let Janion loose that Sunday night? Tell me that!"

"Let Janion loose! I don't in the least know what you're talking about."

"Oh, yes, you do! Dent and I can prove it, Calvert."

The bully's heavy face went oddly yellow.

"You can't!" he snarled.

"But we can!" said Dicky. "Look at this button, you chaps," as he took a button from his pocket and held it up. "Look, all of you! Doesn't that come off Calvert's overcoat?"

"Yes, rather!" said two or three at once.

Calvert seemed to shrink. For once in his life his ready tongue deserted him.

He had an amazing faculty for wriggling out of tight corners; but Dicky's quickness in recognising the tell-tale button had taken him completely by surprise. He had nothing to say. Dicky went on remorselessly.

"You had your innings, Calvert, and we didn't say anything. And I'll allow you gave us a bad time. Now it's our turn. Tom and I can prove that you've been working all this term to get Last into trouble just because you hate him. And I give you fair warning that if you try it again, Tom and I will tell all we know. You hear?"

Again there was silence, while outside the rain drummed steadily.

Before anyone could speak again there was a clatter of feet on the stairs, the door burst open, and there in the opening stood Joe Last himself.

He was covered with mud, and the water was running off him. There was a red smear of blood down one white cheek. He looked so dreadful that the boys stared at him breathlessly, hardly knowing whether he were a ghost or his real self.

"Dent!" gasped Joe, clinging to the doorpost. "Go to the Doctor Tell him the Deadwater Dam has burst! The flood's coming down! I—I have warned the village, but there's Warley. I—I'm done!"

He staggered as he spoke, and Tom was just in time to catch him.

"Go quick, Dicky!" snapped Tom. "We'll look after him." And Dicky fled like a hare.

He never stopped to knock at the Doctor's study door, but flung it open.

Miss Morland was still there, seated in a chair by the fire, with Dr. Fair sitting opposite.

"The dam's gone!" burst out Dicky. "Last's back! He told us!"

Miss Morland was out of her chair almost before the Doctor.

"The Deadwater Dam! Good heavens! Then the water will be over Maplestone and it will reach Medland! Come, Robert!"

She had pulled on her coat in a moment, and she and the Doctor ran out together.

Dicky did not wait for leave. He followed them out into the quadrangle.

It was still raining, but not so hard. All three made for the gate at a run. It was locked, but luckily the Doctor had his key. As he opened it there was a sound of a motor engine, and a glare of headlights came blazing round the corner.

Next instant a car pulled up, and there in the driving seat was the long, lean form of Professor Perrin, with the rain streaming off his black oilskin coat and sou'-wester.

"You know!" he said. "Last's told you, I suppose! Jump in! We ought to be just in time!"

They did not wait for a second invitation. The Doctor and Miss Morland got in behind, Dicky leaped up beside the Professor, and at once the car darted forward.

"As plucky a thing as ever was done!" jerked out the Professor, as the car roared on down the road. "That boy Last has saved the lives of scores of people this night and thousands of pounds' worth of property into the bargain. Why, they hadn't even got the lock gates open at Maplestone Mill till he warned them!"

"How did he do it, sir?" asked Dicky eagerly.

"Collared a bicycle from a cottage up in Crosscombe, and did those five miles in the mud and rain and blackness in a little less than twenty minutes. And he dead beat before he started! But don't talk, lad. I've got to drive, and it's no joke in this darkness."


CHAPTER 69
The Race to Warley

ABOVE the throb of the car engine Dicky could hear in the distance a dull sound, like steady, prolonged thunder, which grew gradually louder. No need to ask what it was. The dam was down, and the contents of the great reservoir—hundreds of thousands of tons of water—were rolling in majesty down the valley.

The Professor drove magnificently, and as the car shot round a corner lights showed up ahead. Next instant they had pulled up on a little rise almost opposite the main gates of Warley Hall.

"The car will be all right here," said the Professor as he sprang out.

Dicky followed him nimbly, and he, the Professor, Dr. Fair, and Miss Morland all ran helter-skelter through the gates and along the drive to the house.

Miss Morland pulled the bell.

"How long will the water take to reach us?" she asked curtly of the Professor.

"Five minutes, I should say," was his reply; and as he spoke the door opened and there stood Miss Morland's second-in-command. Miss Dewey.

"Oh, I am so glad you are back!" she exclaimed. "What is that dreadful noise?"

"The Deadwater Dam has gone," replied Miss Morland. "We have perhaps five minutes to get the girls out. Take the left wing. I will go to the right. Robert, you and the Professor wait here in case we need help."

When it came to an emergency, Miss Morland was all there, and she was gone almost before she had finished speaking. The roar was growing louder each instant.

Dicky was white with anxiety on Cicely's account, but the Professor put a hand on his shoulder.

"All right, my boy," he said. "The house is quite two hundred yards from the river and twenty or thirty feet above it. Though the flood may rise to this level I doubt if there is any great danger; the full force of it will be spent in the bottom of the valley."

Dicky took courage, and next minute girls came flying down the staircase. Almost the first was Cicely.

"Oh, Dicky, are we going to be drowned?" she cried.

"Not a bit of it," replied Dicky sturdily. "The worst will be a wetting. Come on. We're all going to the new house across the road."

Taking her arm, he ran out, and other girls followed.

The roar was deafening, and as they reached the road the gate lights shone on a shallow surge of water sweeping up it. Dicky held Cicely tight and charged through, and the others followed. It was not up to their knees.

Another minute, and they were all hurrying up the steep slope to the new house, and presently were safe out of the rain and flood in the big, well-lighted hall. There the Doctor, the Professor, Miss Morland, and the rest joined them.

Miss Morland counted her flock, and sighed with relief as she found them all safe.

"And to think what might have happened if that brave boy had not brought us the warning!" she exclaimed, as she listened to the flood rushing down the road.

"Was it Joe?" asked Cicely of Dicky.

"Yes, it was Joe," whispered back Dicky, "but don't ask questions. I'll tell you all I can tomorrow."

Cicely's eyes widened.

"But I shan't see you tomorrow."

"Oh, yes, you will!" answered Dicky, with a smile. "Miss Morland has had her deeds back, and everything is all right."

Cicely fairly shrieked with delight, and the news spread like magic to the other girls. They were all so pleased that they quite forgot the discomforts of getting wet and having no beds to sleep in. But big fires were soon blazing, wet clothes were dried, and all were talking sixteen to the dozen.


CHAPTER 70
The Doctor Explains

THE flood passed, but it was daylight before any of the refugees ventured out. When they did so it was to find that the whole valley had been swept, that some houses were gone altogether, and that one end of one wing of Warley Hall was down.

The damage was bad enough, but it would have been very much worse if the lock gates had not been opened, so allowing the bulk of the water to escape; and, thanks to Joe's warning, not a single life had been lost in the village.

Back at the school Dicky was promptly sent off to bed, but not until he had heard that Joe was safe in the sick-ward, and doing well.

The school were all agog to hear the story of what had happened; and Tom Burland was kept busy staving off awkward questions.

Luckily there was so much he could tell that he was able to keep back the unpleasant parts. He let every one believe that Last had been chasing Janion when he discovered that the dam was giving way.

That afternoon a notice was posted that all the boys were to attend at four o'clock in the big schoolroom.

Everyone was on tip-toe with excitement. To Tom's delight, Dicky appeared just in time to take his seat beside him. Dr. Fair came in and, with him, Miss Morland. The Doctor stood up and looked round.

"Boys," he began, in that clear, penetrating voice of his, "you all know how Miss Morland lost her bag during the accident to the train on the first day of this term. I think you know, too, that the bag contained papers of considerable value. The mystery of that loss has gone far to upset us all and to render the first part of this term a failure. That trouble is at an end. The mystery is solved, and the credit is principally due to the pluck and energy of Dent and Burland."

Dicky's cheeks went the colour of a poppy. He had not expected this, and was much embarrassed.

Tom reddened and looked sheepish. A murmur of applause broke out, but the Doctor checked it.

"Wait!" he said. "I have more to tell you. It was a third boy, Last, who actually succeeded in recovering Miss Morland's papers from the real thief. And it was Joe Last who, by an extraordinary feat of bravery and strength, managed to warn the village last night of the breaking of the great dam and of the coming flood. By so doing he saved thousands of pounds' worth of property and many lives."

Applause broke out again, but again the Doctor raised his hand.

"I have given praise where praise is due. Now I have something less pleasant to say. Certain boys are deeply to blame. I am not going to mention any names at present or to give details, for I have not yet made up my mind how I shall deal with them."

All eyes were on Calvert, who scowled and wriggled miserably in his seat. Philip Aylmer, too, looked extremely unhappy.

The Doctor paused a moment, then continued:

"And now I have good news to tell you. Miss Morland wishes me to say that all is to be as it was last term. The Sunday teas will be resumed, and boys with sisters at Warley Hall will be allowed to see them as before."

He got no farther. Every boy in the room was on his feet.

"Three cheers for Miss Morland!" yelled someone; and they were given with a roar.

"And three for the Master!" And they, too, crashed out.

"Three cheers for Dicky Dent and Tom Burland!" rose another voice above the din. "And three for Joe Last!" The window panes rattled with the shouting, and dust floated down from the ancient rafters in the roof.

Next moment Dicky and Tom were surrounded by boys who slapped them on the back and shook their hands, many saying shamefacedly how sorry they were for having treated them so badly.

The Doctor stood, smiling as he watched. When the din had subsided he raised his hand again.

"Just one word more, boys. In order to celebrate this occasion I propose to give the school a whole holiday one day next week. Professor Perrin suggests to me that some of you might like to see a new range of caves which Dent and Burland have discovered in the cliffs. He suggests a picnic for the whole school, and I have given my consent."

"Top hole!" "Splendid!" "What a lark!" came shouts.

"Thank you, sir," cried a score of boys at once.

Still smiling, the Doctor turned and left the platform, and the boys poured out into the quadrangle. Dicky and Tom slipped away and found a place under the trees where they could talk.

"It's turned out all right," said Dicky to his chum.

"Top hole!" agreed Tom.

Dicky considered a little.

"The only thing that worries me is about Joe," he said.

"How do you mean, Dicky?"

"Suppose Janion goes to the police, and tells them it was Joe who took the money out of Miss Morland's bag?"

Tom's face went very grave.

"I'd forgotten that—clean forgotten it. You're right, Dicky. It would be the very mischief!" He paused, then went on in a more cheerful voice: "But Janion has cleared out, and I don't suppose he will ever come back."

"The police might catch him," returned Dicky. "Then they'd have to arrest Joe."

"It's a bad job, Dicky; a horrid job. But what can we do?"


CHAPTER 71
What the Flood Left

IN silence the two walked toward the gates.

"Let's go and look at the river," suggested Tom.

The water had run down and the river was again between its banks, but the centre of the valley was a scene of dreadful, desolation: trees, fences, roofs of sheds, logs, planks, all sorts of stuff were flung up in heaps in the meadows along the line of high-water mark, and many people were searching among the muddy piles for their property.

The boys wandered about for a while, then, as it was getting near tea-time, turned toward the school.

As they walked up the road suddenly there came out of a field gate four men carrying on their shoulders a hurdle. On it lay what was unmistakably the figure of a man, though covered with sacking.

Dicky pulled up short.

"It—it's a dead man," he said in an awed whisper.

"I'm afraid it is," replied Tom; "but I thought they said no lives had been lost."

The four men carrying the hurdle passed on; then Dicky saw another come through the gate. It was their old friend, the sergeant.

Dicky ran up to him.

"Who is it?" he asked quickly.

The sergeant looked at Dicky.

"Why, it's Mr. Dent!" he said.

"You mean the drowned chap?" he continued, nodding in the direction of the bier. "No one as you need worry about a lot," he added grimly. "It's that Janion. They've only just found his body lying in a heap of stuff down below the town. No one knows how he got there, but it's plain he was washed down a long way.

"Strange thing, ain't it?" he continued thoughtfully. "So far as we know he's the only one as was drowned in all the valley."

Dicky hardly heard, for, muttering a word of thanks to the sergeant, he scuttled back to Tom.

"It's Janion," he said. "Janion is dead—and—and Joe is safe."

Tom shivered slightly.

"Poor creature!" he said slowly. "But I can't be sorry. Let's hurry back and send word to Joe."

* * * * *

The picnic at the caves was a huge success, and all the more so because Calvert was conspicuous by his absence. The Doctor had requested his people to take Calvert away from Medland, and they had done so.

The Doctor had been in two minds about removing Philip Aylmer also. Joe Last, however, had begged so hard for his half-brother that Philip had been given another chance. But the Doctor had told him plainly that if he did not mend his ways he would not be allowed to come back for another term.

Joe, too, was at the picnic—Joe, looking subdued and rather white, yet happier than he had been for weeks. He walked back from the caves with Dicky and Tom.

"Did you notice Philip?" he asked.

Dicky looked puzzled.

"At tea, I mean," explained Joe. "Didn't you see? He only ate one hunch of cake."

Dicky laughed. "Then there's hope for him," he replied.

"I believe there is," replied Joe; and he, too, laughed more cheerily than for a long time past.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library.
Non sibi sed omnibus